By Bay City News Service
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Tuesday unveiled a three-year budget plan for the state's courts that claims the financially pressed system needs at least $161 million more than proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown for next year "just to tread water."
The chief justice, who heads the California court system as well as its highest court, announced the plan at a news conference in Sacramento. Details were provided in a "Three-Year Blueprint for a Fully Functioning Court Judicial Branch" released by her office in San Francisco.
Brown's budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year would provide $3.27 billion for California courts, including $105 million more than last year.
But the chief justice's blueprint said the courts would require a total of $266 million more than last year, or $161 million more than proposed by Brown, just to maintain current court service levels, which have already been cut back over the past several years.
The reason is that the courts have now spent down about $200 million in reserves they were required to draw on last year and reserves will be unavailable in the coming year, the document said.
The blueprint said that providing adequate service, as opposed to maintaining current levels, would take $612 million more next year.
In a statement last week after Brown released his proposal, Cantil-Sakauye said, "I appreciate the Governor's fiscal prudence as well as his recognition of the need for reinvestment in the judicial branch," but said the branch has "critical unmet needs."
"Californians rely on a fully functioning court system to protect their constitutional rights, secure protective orders, resolve child custody issues, and settle business disputes," the chief justice said.
California's court system is the largest in the nation, with more than 2,000 judicial officers in 58 county superior courts, six regional appeals courts and the state Supreme Court.
The blueprint notes that previous budget cuts have forced the closure of 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms around the state and resulted in reduced public service hours in 30 courts.
Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who attended the Sacramento news conference, said in a statement that he shares the chief justice's concerns about the need for adequate funding.
"Low-income Californians have been especially hit hard because they are the most vulnerable to the loss of their legal rights and the burden of court budget cuts has fallen most heavily on services disproportionately used by low-income parties," the assemblyman said.
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