Court Funding
California’s court system has borne a disproportionate share of the state’s budget hardship – denying vital services and preventing many Californians from ever having their day in court.

An independent judiciary is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. The framers of the Constitution were keenly aware of the importance of an independent court system, establishing the judiciary as its own co-equal branch of government. The Framers were also aware of the vulnerability of the court system; Alexander Hamilton warned in the Federalist Papers that the judiciary “is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches.”

Because the court system receives its funding from the state Legislature, justice is often at the mercy of the budget process. Today in California, our courts are being put at risk. In the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008-09, the California Court system faced a 30% reduction in its general funding. Judicial funding cuts closed hundreds of courtrooms and courthouses throughout the state and drastically scaled back court services in every county. Judicial backlogs from court closures and furloughs mean that all Californians have longer waits and less access to justice. 
More than $1.1 billion was cut from the judicial branch budget after the start of the Great Recession in 2008, with severe impacts on court services for businesses and consumers alike. More recent state budgets have helped restore much of the funding, including an additional $258 million for trial courts in 2018-19, but remains more to do. CAOC will continue to take lead on this issue. 

Judicial cutbacks affect everyone, but especially the most vulnerable Californians.

More often than not the Court System is forced to balance its budget on the backs of the most vulnerable members of society. Budget cuts often close special court programs that deal with juvenile dependency, indigent defendants, drug addiction, veterans and victims of domestic violence. These vulnerable groups already face substantial barriers getting into court, and the current court funding crisis makes it even more difficult to seek justice. Closed courtrooms strain other social service systems, which are forced to absorb the needs of those waiting for justice. Long lines and crowded court dockets keep children in foster care and keep victims of domestic violence in abusive situations or shelters. The shortage of judicial resources ensures that many people will be unable to seek justice at all, and those who do will have a difficult time navigating a slower system.

Closed courtrooms slow justice and frustrate California’s economy.

Shortsighted budget solutions that harm the courts make it difficult for California to maintain a robust economy. Courtroom closures do not just cost court employee jobs, they wreak havoc on California’s business climate. With wait times in civil cases reaching six months for a hearing, a simple business dispute can create years of uncertainty for California business owners. 

Judicial cutbacks have happened up and down the state.

Courtrooms and communities across the state have felt the pinch of the judicial budget crisis. In urban areas like San Francisco, budget cuts threatened to close a huge number of civil courtrooms in the city. In rural counties like Stanislaus, entire courthouses were closed permanently forcing rural residents to travel great distances to access justice. Court closures affect ever community, and every constituency. For the sake of our democracy and justice for all, California needs to take steps to ensure effective funding solutions are identified and embraced.