SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The governing body of California’s judicial branch allocated a painful $350 million budget cut among different segments of the state court system at a meeting in San Francisco Friday.

The funding cut, amounting to 15 percent of the court system’s $2.3 billion operating budget, was made by the Legislature in the austerity budget enacted last month.

The state Judicial Council carried out the reduction by adopting the recommendations of a working group of judges and court executives.

California’s trial courts—the 58 county-based superior courts—will see a 6.8 percent loss of funds.

The California Supreme Court and six regional appeals courts will lose 9.7 percent of last year’s funds and the central administration, known as the Administrative Office of the Courts, will forgo 12 percent.

“There is no way to spread this without substantial pain,” working group member Stephen Nash, chief executive officer of San Bernardino County Superior Court, told the council.

Nash said the cumulative funding cut to the court system, including previous reductions since 2008, is now $653 million.

The full annual budget of the court system last year was $3.5 billion, but the adjusted operating budget considered by the working group excluded about $1.2 billion in non-reducible fixed costs.

Those costs include court security provided by sheriffs, which is now being transferred to county budgets, and judges’ salaries.

The plan includes a delay in most new courthouse construction around the state and a one-year suspension of a controversial computerized case management system being developed by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Some speakers at the meeting urged even greater cuts in the central administration and in construction planning in order to give more money to trial courts.

San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein told the council, “These runaway plans, systems and staff are sucking tens of millions of dollars from the trial courts and that must be reversed.”

The San Francisco court will lose nearly $5 million, in addition to a previous deficit of $8 million, from last year’s $75 million budget.

Feinstein announced Monday that the court is laying off 200 employees and closing 12 of 15 civil trial courtrooms. Criminal trials will continue, but most civil lawsuits may take five years to go to trial, she said.

The San Francisco court is receiving a larger jolt this than some other superior courts because it previously dipped into reserve funds to avoid layoffs and is no longer able to do so.

“San Francisco may have been the first trial court to fall, but I know that others are soon to follow, and you know that too,” Feinstein told the council.

Court reporter Arnella Sims, who has worked for Los Angeles Superior Court for 36 years, said, “I’m watching the judicial system disintegrate before my very eyes.”

The council is made up of 15 judges, four lawyers and two legislators. It is chaired by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and has its headquarters in San Francisco.

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

Comments (5)
  1. mechanic says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if all the judges and other court employees would just work 15% harder to get the work done that these cuts are allegedly going to eliminate(??) Judges and high-paid court administration people should take a 10-15% cut in pay too. If they’d tighten their belts a little, they’d help out quite a bit. They’d still be making much more than they should anyway(??)

  2. burlycurlyjoe says:

    I worked for the SF Superior Court for a very long time…and know what goes on behind the scenes. These people seem to think they are “untouchable.” It’s about time that the judicial counsel opened its eyes to the reality of what a lot of these court administrators do…simply pass the time on the internet, chatting, and playing poker on the computer while litigants are waiting patiently for some sort of customer service.

    1. mechanic says:

      Thanks for the details that support my claim above. It’s all part of the Big Scam: make the taxpayers pay for everything, and keep them in the dark.

  3. Milan Moravec says:

    Now is the time to turn to bloated University of California Berkeley for cuts that remove tuition increases. University of California has massive budget shortfalls. It is dismaying Calif. Governor Brown. President Yudof have, once again, been unable to agree on wage, benefit concessions to eliminate tuition increases.
    Californians face mortgage defaults, 10% unemployment, salary reductions, loss of medical, unemployment benefits, higher taxes. Yudof needs to demonstrate leadership by curbing wages, benefits. If wages better elsewhere, chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured, non tenured faculty, UCOP apply for the positions. If wages are what commit employees to UC, leave for better paying position. The sky will not fall on UC.

    ‘Pitch in’ for much-needed and appreciated wage concessions UC, Californians suffer from greatest longest recession of modern times. UC wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid.
    ‘Pitch in’ UC President, Faculty, Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, UCOP:
    No furloughs
    18 percent reduction in UCOP salaries & $50 million cut.
    18 percent prune of campus chancellors’, vice chancellors’ salaries.
    15 percent trim of tenured faculty salaries, increased teaching load
    10 percent decrease in non-tenured faculty salaries, as well as increase research, teaching load
    100% elimination of all Academic Senate, Academic Council costs, wages.

    (17,000 UC paid employees earn more than $100,000)

    However, rose bushes always bloom after pruning.

    UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances that UC salaries reflect depressed wages in California. The sky will not fall on UC