State’s Chief Justice Fights to Restore Funding for Courts

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addresses a hearing in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. (AP Photo (pool)/Paul Sakuma)

State budget negotiations will intensify after Gov. Jerry Brown releases his revised spending plan in mid-May. And the leader of California’s judicial branch wants to make sure the state’s courts get an increased share of funding.

Brown has proposed adding $105 million to the courts next year, which have seen years of deep budget cuts. But California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says the courts will need much, much more to adequately serve the public.

“In order to maintain that status quo — lines out the door, the delay, the closures — we need $266 million simply to maintain the status quo, which in my mind is substandard,” Cantil-Sakauye says. She spoke to KQED’s Mina Kim in an extended interview (embedded below) on Tuesday.

Given more than $1 billion in reductions to the judicial branch since 2008-2009, she says, more than 50 courthouses and 200 courtrooms have been closed. The cuts have also led to more than 3,900 layoffs in courts around the state.

“You know that we were a partner to the tune of $1 billion in cuts,” Cantil-Sakauye says. “Now we’re looking for restoration, and the governor’s budget of $105 million, compared to $1 billion in cuts over the years, just quite frankly isn’t sufficient.”

Cantil-Sakauye says the cuts have degraded the quality of justice available to ordinary Californians.

“I think there are invisible voices out there,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “There are people who are going to court and being turned away. There are people who are coming upon closed courthouses, people who are having their cases shelved until we have more resources to address them. I think those people feel this acutely.”

Cantil-Sakauye says she has created a blueprint for a fully functioning judicial system within three years. It requires an investment of $612 million in the first year alone.

“Government cannot run effectively, we do not have a true democracy, we really don’t have that unless there are three equally funded branches of government,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “And so I think that’s the message I continue to try to get across to the Sacramento folks, that we are a predicate for which democracy exists, and so we shouldn’t be relegated to be compared with other services that I think are just as worthy. But nevertheless: How much does justice matter for you?”

Listen to KQED’s Mina Kim interview the chief justice below.


Don Clyde

Don Clyde is an online producer, reporter and copy editor for KQED News. Before venturing into journalism, he worked as a medical device engineer and scientist for nearly a decade after earning a degree in physics from UC Berkeley. He loves travel, reading, living in Oakland, and most importantly, a good walk. Email him at or follow him @clydedon.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor