| by Brian Leubitz
Note: Old text moved beneath the fold
If you didn't have a chance to catch the live stream of the thoroughly enjoyable conversation with Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, put it on your list of videos to watch when you have an hour or so. The video isn't up on the PPIC website, but it should be available soon here. In the meantime, as this is a blog that spends many pixels on budget issues, I'll include a bit of my own recording on the subject.
The underlying point is this: You can't cut 30% of the budget of one of the largest systems of justice in the nation and expect that there will be no substantial service cuts. Over three years, $1B was cut in general fund spending on the courts. Considering the current annual budget is not much more that figure on an annual basis, that's real money. Despite courts only accounting for 1.2% of the general fund, we get an enormous return on that investment.
However, it is inordinately difficult to adjust to such large cuts so quickly. In LA, 10 courts were closed, Fresno had seven courts closed, and in perhaps the most dramatic instance, San Bernardino County's three closures meant that some residents of the county will have to drive 175 miles to get to court. Now, you might say that those are folks that are far from everything. That might be true, but for many these will just make it too difficult to access the justice system. And ultimately, access to justice is the very heart of the judicial branch's mission.
PPIC president Mark Baldassare spent a good chunk of the time with the Chief Justice discussing the death penalty and sentencing reform. On the death penalty front, she noted that one of the biggest causes of delay in the system was a lack of qualified attorneys willing to take on death penalty appeals. The work drags on for years, and requires a level of skill and commitment that is just simply difficult to find, never mind the issue of the pay. The courts are also working on implementing hybrid sentencing, including both jail and service time, in an attempt to reduce recidivism.
The Chief Justice also touched on the importance of civics education, the initiative process, and how much time of the Supreme Court is spent litigating those ballot measures.
At any rate, it was an hour well spent, check the PPIC site for the video when available.