It was an odd juxtaposition of news stories on the radio.

NPR reported Russia is trying to get foreign investment, but people are wary: companies don’t know if contracts will be enforced, or if the government will impose criminal charges without foundation, or just fairly enforce its laws.  They’re not sure there is a Russian justice system.

The same day, another story detailed Sacramento’s devastating budget cuts to California courts.

These cuts follow reductions inflicted in past years.  My court, the San Francisco Superior Court, has already reduced staff by about 18 percent through attrition, which puts us on the equivalent of life support.

The new budget will have even more profound consequences.  It will leave us with half the personnel we had two years ago.  Right now, my court is preparing layoff notices to 41 percent of our staff and closing 25 courtrooms.  Civil trials will suffer the most, indeed there may be no courtrooms available for any civil cases.  Every other service to the public will diminish.  As it is, we can’t keep up with filings, and usually can’t have hearings on Fridays. If justice delayed is justice denied, we are in for very tough times: people and companies simply will not get relief in a timely way.

Nowhere are courts more vital than in the U.S.  Judges — and their staff — are asked to step in when drug treatments fail, when companies use misleading ads, people breach contracts, families explode, competitors steal trade secrets, neighborhoods are commanded by gangs, citizens endure arbitrary regulations and landlords and tenants can’t resolve their disputes.  It’s a long list, but in the face of partisan politics, money, raw power and sometimes corruption, the courts provide the only place for fairness and law.

In hard times, when government reduces services, when companies and people make decisions with profound economic consequences for others, then we need our courts more than ever.  And without people, we have no justice system.

It is not good enough to have good laws on the books.  Russia has those, too.

With a Perspective, I’m Curtis Karnow.

No People, No Justice 5 July,2011perspectives
  • Randy H

    Excellent.  A judge expresses an opinion (and a refreshing, good one, this good small speech and perspective).  More judges should, without compromising themselves on a particular court case, speak out now and then.  They could speak on many topics.  But, sadly, judges are the silent unknown factor, despite their power.  We and they would benefit from hearing from them now and then.  Perhaps they must walk a fine line, but they should walk it.  Bravo, Judge.  

  • Randy H

    Hmmm.  I would like to see/hear judges voice and take action to reduce court and legal costs for Joe Citizen.  Quick example–even simple copies are absurdly expensive.  Whoever said something like “I fear most being involved in civil court” was right-on.  Win or lose, a financial tsunami.

    Or am I wrong?    

  • A Paralegal

    Judge Karnow, you wrote:

    “It will leave us with half the personnel we had two years
    ago.  Right now, my court is preparing layoff notices to 41 percent of our staff and closing 25 courtrooms. ”

    Are those numbers for San Francisco’s civil court, criminal court, or both? 

    • Dennis

      The Superior Court consists of both civil and criminal court. The Superior Court will 41 % of its staff. This will effect both.

  • Cynthia Marcopulos

    No one will acknowledge the six illegal endless wars we are in (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya) and the bailout of the banksters who, in turn, gave themselves bonuses with our taxpayer dollars, AND the tax breaks for the top one-tenth of one percent which have more money than the entire country put together.
    This is causing the hemorrhage of our economy on the backs of the Middle Class.

  • guest

    Thank you, Judge!

  • Nicolabourne

    Thank you, Judge Karnow, for your illuminating perspective.  I work as an independent contractor for civil litigators and have become aware of the tremendous damage being done to our legal system by precisely the kinds of procedural barricades you so well describe.  There’s no point in saying we’re a nation of laws if we aren’t able to plead our causes anywhere. 

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor