Call For Court Funding Fix in California

A column in the Los Angeles Daily News by Bob Hertzberg, Chair of the California Senate Committee on Government and Finance, calls for greater funding for the state’s court system.

While acknowledging California Governor Jerry Brown’s announcement of a 5.7 percent increase in overall court funding, he writes that the courts are in distress as “unprecedented budget cuts since 2008 have closed 52 courthouses and 202 courtrooms and produced court delays in many counties that run for years.” The result of this is that every day “thousands of Californians encounter shortened court hours, closed courthouses and overworked staff — and when they do get through the judicial process, they often get hit with hefty fines and penalties that don’t fit the violation.”

Hertzberg also questions the methods through which the state acquires the funds for California’s courts. He writes, “the judicial branch receives just 2.2 percent of the overall state budget. More than half of that money, however, originates from fines, fees and assessments. As a result, the ability to access justice in California is increasingly based on the ability to pay for it.”

Hertzberg concludes that the increases in fines and fees required to make the current system work undermine the guiding principle that the judiciary should “ensure that every Californian has equitable access to justice and the protections of the law.”