The California Legislature has announced it’s cutting $350 million from the state court system. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye — who describes the cutbacks as unprecedented — joins us to discuss the repercussions.

Judges and other officials in counties around the state say the move puts public services in danger, delays trials and forces the closure of some courtrooms.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice of the California Supreme Court
Gerald Uelmen, professor of law at Santa Clara University
Scott Graham, editor-in-chief of The Recorder, a Northern California legal weekly
Brian Walsh, interim presiding judge for the Superior Court of California, Santa Clara County
Mary Ann Gilliard, Sacramento County Superior Court judge and director of the Alliance of California Judges

  • Livegreenoak

    Again, because the State of CA legislature does not want to cut costs from the Unions or increase income from the rich, it is slashing services.  To the Courts today, to the Schools at the end of the year (just like each of the last years).

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans care only about their donors.  We need new political parties…

    When are major Silicon Valley businesses going to support moderation?  Don’t they realize cutting both Education and Civil Courts affect their bottom line?  And yet, they do nothing…

  • Tiggeroo02

    Who really has access to the “justice” system anyway?

    • LawyerTom1

      That is what class actions are about, allowing those who cannot afford the cost of litigation to have their day in court on often important issues because they do not have to pay for the case.

  • Proserpina

    What about having volunteer lawyers help pro per litigants during court appearances? My own experience in defending against a pro per plaintiff is that a huge amount of court time was wasted due to his not being well versed in court procedures. Many attorneys offer pro bono services, including new attorneys who want courtroom experience but have only document review jobs.

  • Nyani1

    As always it is the management/administration that prevails, and the folks who do the work of the Court who bear the burden. According to SEIU, Pat Sweeten, Court Executive Officer for Alameda County has finagled a $17,000/year raise in the middle of Court room closures. Go figure….

  • Duane

    Since most citizens only need to seek relief in court a few times (if ever) in their lives, they’re unaware how destructive these cuts will be to civic well-being. But one need only look at foreclosure abuses as an example to see the potential ramifications for our neighbors and communities. 

    When a plaintiff (i.e. individual, corporation, land owner) files a lawsuit, the defendant has a limited number of days to file a response. The defendant is thus already at a disadvantage because they have to marshal resources and expertise on a limited timeline. They’ll now find further obstacles in protecting their rights due to courtroom closures, restricted hours of operations, reduced staffing and filing fee hikes.

    It seems Californians have come to take our state for granted, believing the 20th century investments will carry us in perpetuity. Are we being penny-wise, pound-foolish?

  • Sfpls

    This is a letter I sent to the Chronicle that went unpublished.  I just watched the disingenuous comments of Judge Feinstein during her interview by Belva Davis.  Judge Feinstein is part of a political machine that is finally beginning to reap the harvest of its own disgraceful conduct.  It’s about time.

    Here is the revised letter I sent to the SF Chron:Subject: SF courts warn of budget disaster

    Editor:Many veterans of California’s family courts will shed no tears over the loss of funding cited in your article.  Last year the Elkins Family Law Task Force, appointed by the California Supreme Court, held hearings and meetings to take public input regarding family court shortcomings and propose solutions.  Most public comments expressed dismay at unethical and unprofessional conduct in those courts, and disappointment at the meek recommendations for reform from the Elkins group.  State Senator Leno and Assemblyman James Beall introduced legislation calling for audits in several family courts due to documented evidence of those shortcomings.  Unfortunately, one of Senator Leno’s pet family courts, the one here in San Francisco, did not come under his scrutiny.The quoted speaker in the article, Judge Katherine Feinstein, was recently the supervising judge of the San Francisco Family Court, but neither she nor her predecessor, Judge Donna Hitchens, did anything to clean up the unethical conduct that is rampant here.  Before asking taxpayers to shell out more money to those least deserving in a time of fiscal hardship, Judge Feinstein, like her family and political allies who bear responsibility for this state of affairs, should become accountable to their victims.Peter TurnerSan Francisco

  • Bluesdoc

    The injustice system is, was designed to be, and continues to be a system by lawyers, for lawyers, to enrichen lawyers.

    Judge Feinstein’s statement: “We are judge rich, and staff poor,” is true, especially as far as being judge rich.

    The judges have been enrichened at the expense of the public.
    I smell widespread fraud in the house of the judiciary and its’
    environs, or as I like to call the judiciary, the third house of tyranny
    (and corruption & fraud).

    There are clearly Constitutional violations going on with the “system,” and now, even more so.

    Our right of Due Process is further being eroded, trampled on, spit on and crushed.

    Time to tear their playhouse down, and “kick ’em in the teeth” while they are down.

    As Thomas Jefferson nobly said:

    “When the
    people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the
    people, there is liberty. ”

    I’m for Liberty!!!!

  • Pete

    This is simple, even if we take a mainstream, establishment view to it: While interest groups might criticize family courts most loudly, two state agencies, the California Supreme Court, and the State Auditor’s Office, found structural problems in California’s family court system.  The California Bar Association found the Contra Costa Family Court denied fundamental due process rights to “Elkins”, so wrote an appeal to the Supreme Court, which agreed and deemed the violations to be systematic after receiving numerous similar complaints.  The Supreme Court ordered the Administrative Office of the Courts to appoint a task force to recommend solutions.  What became known as the “Elkins Family Law Task Force” was composed mostly of family law attorneys and judges, those who created the problems – hardly a recipe for success.  During public hearings they clashed with the non-attorneys, who defended the rights of children and respect for law.  That should be a serious wake up call for us: judges and established lawyers (the most vocal being a respected family law attorney here in SF) have less respect for those the law mandates are to be the first considered in decisions (the affected children), and the law itself.  Public comment during those hearings, and reaction to the wimpy suggestions from the task force, were very negative.  Basically, the recommendations were for minor procedural changes, more money for the courts (surprised?), but no added accountability for judges – the primary problem that created the Elkins abuses to begin with.  The State Auditor investigated family courts in Marin and Sacramento pursuant to a bill put forth by Senator Mark Leno and Assemblyman Jim Beall at the request of Marin’s “Committee for Judicial Excellence” – a misnomer if there ever was one.  The CJE, contrary to Leno’s reassurances, has a hidden agenda: While they rightfully expose financial conflicts of interest and incompetence in family courts, they single out those which fail to advance their agenda, which is revising California’s Family Code to award custody rights to women only.  I followed just one link on their website to find an article that advocated just that.  They are an example of the big lie being covered for by obvious truths, which create sympathy for what seems to logically follow but actually does not.  All family courts should be investigated to determine their adherence to law, judicial ethics, and the interests of children.  To the chagrin of Leno, Beall, and the CJE the State Auditor issued a responsible report, citing unethical conduct but not drawing the sexist conclusions wanted.  Here in San Francisco, where Leno has his political base, some of the worst violations of law occur.  He fails to address them because the SF family court was shaped in recent years by his political ally, Judge Donna Hitchens.  Judge Hitchens had honest motives when she engineered the appointment of commissioners she could count on to grant equal rights to non-traditional families.  Unfortunately, those she counted on had their agendas as well, and the result is a bias so extreme that men can count on a negative outcome no matter what the merits of their case.  Those she sponsored saw to it that every legal precedent and explicit directive in statutory law is defied, attorney fees are used as a bludgeon, advisors to the court are ignored, and children are hurt.  The winners are the attorneys who are greedy enough to play the game and contribute to the right political causes.  Every principle Hitchens has trumpeted has been violated as a matter of policy, and she says nothing.  Now that she has retired, the influence she still has is wasted on political and personal flattery.   Katherine Feinstein was the Supervising Judge of the SF Family Court while these abuses raged, and did nothing about them.  It’s hard to imagine that her family’s ties to the same political machine that uses their juice to create this mess is not relevant.  She seems so poised and sincere in her interview with Belva Davis, but she is part of the problem, not the solution.  If KQED viewers and California voters look into this, they will see the largest single branch of the civil court system is seriously broken.  The solution is not more money, but less.  Turning divorcing families away from litigation should always be encouraged, but in spite of claims that a new process – collaborative law – is doing that, the effort to establish it here in SF is headed up by one of the most aggressive and competitive attorneys in town.  We cannot count on the foxes to mind the henhouse, not in collaborative law nor the Elkins group.  A new direction in family law is needed for the sake of children and a return to some semblance of ethical jurisprudence, but that direction should preserve and expand upon the principle of equal rights of mothers and fathers as a starting presumption in contested custody.  Don’t count on lawyers and judges who benefit from the expensive system in place to do that – especially not Katherine Feinstein, who had her chance but didn’t even try.  She has a lot of explaining to do as to why we should pump more money into a system that wastes it in a time of fiscal crisis.Peter TurnerSan Francisco          

  • Chuck

    Unbelievably, the Judicial Council, chaired by Chief Justice Tani Cantil Sakauye, voted on Friday to cut trial courts while sparing the massive court bureaucracy known as the Administrative Office of the Courts.  Despite the pleas of both statewide judges organizations, as well as San Francisco presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein, the council voted 17-2 to continue funding CCMS, the controversial multi-billion dollar statewide computer system, and to spare the AOC from significant paring.  The result?  Justice denied for our California citizens. 


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