KCBS In Depth: The California Court System

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Tani Cantil-Sakauye said despite current budget constraints that the California Court System was still able to serve the people, but she did answer cautiously. The State Supreme Court Chief Justice, nominated by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was sworn into office in January 2011 to replace retiring justice Ronald George.

KCBS In Depth:

Sakauye served on California trial and appellate courts for more than 20 years and now leads not only the state Supreme Court, but all of California’s courts including 58 trial courts and six courts of appeal.

She’s been very outspoken on the affects of budget constraints on the court system.

“It is a historical structure problem. For the last three years the judicial branch budget has been reduced by 30 percent,” she said.

Sakauye admits it wasn’t a large budget to begin with and claimed it only makes up approximately three percent of the state judicial branch budget.

“That’s three percent to serve 37 million Californians. That’s a difficult proposition under any circumstance,” she added.

The chief justice said the effects of a reduced budget would be felt in a plethora of ways including; delays in trying to get a custody order, filing for divorce, taking care of family probate matters, serving jury duty, fighting traffic tickets, attempts to evict and fighting eviction.

According to Sakauye, the criminal side of the court system would be less affected since constitutional rights protect those accused of crime, but you will see judges handling more with less.

“We’re getting to our fourth consecutive year of reduction and we’re beginning to think that we are really straining our system, that we could be jeopardizing [constitutional] rights,” she said.

Judges will have to make some difficult decisions to see what civil cases will go to trial. They’ll need to weigh in if any revenue can be generated from filing fees according to Sakauye.

She even convened a group of Bay Area attorneys to consider a statewide solution to the branches’ budget.

“This is not merely a regional problem. It is a branch wide statewide problem. So I brought them together to hear their best ideas,” said Sakauye.

They came up with raising certain filing fees, but limiting the time frame that those fee increases would be in effect.

This could also possibly limit the amount of frivolous lawsuits that are filed, but at the same time it might be cause for an increase in private mediation and conflict resolution.

Sakauye is concerned that would create a justice system where only those with the means have the ability to solve their problems.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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  • jessica cole

    There is already a separate form of justice in civil law, and has been for some time. The wealthy litigants go through private arbitration organizations or special masters. Example: JAMS, a group or stable of retired California judges and justices. They dole out their high priced spread to the litigants who can afford a separate brand of justice. The chief justice knows this. She is a weak chief justice and is tiptoeing around this issue. It is a problem that will only get worse.

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