State courts may suffer deep budget cuts


Got a traffic ticket you want to fight? Or a pending family court matter like divorce or child custody? Maybe you sued a business. Well, you may not get a court day for months. That's what California courts are facing if Gov. Jerry Brown's budget cuts are approved.

The Judicial Council called an emergency meeting to review what a $500,000 million cut could mean. Shorter hours, further layoffs, even a shutdown some courtrooms are on table. Many construction projects would also have to be put on hold. Since criminal cases would get priority, judges say civil matters would take a back seat.

"So those people are going to be without the justice they hoped for when they've been wronged or seriously injured," said Hon. Mary Ann O'Malley from Contra Costa County.

Some judges went as far as saying the system is moving towards a rationing of justice.

"It means judges have that tough task of saying, 'Here's how much money I have, here's the workload that I have, and now with those aspects of the criminal courts where we have to get the work done,''" said Hon. Douglas Miller from the Court of Appeals in Riverside. "Everything else is going to have to be rationed."

The governor's proposed $500 million cuts would be on top of the $650 million cut the courts have had to implement over the last four years.

Critics say the reductions are the result of financial mismanagement and misplaced priorities by the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts, pointing out hundreds of millions were squandered in modernizing the courts computer system that now is too expensive to finish. The Brown administration says it's time for the courts to use their rainy day funds.

"Trial courts have substantial reserves that we think are available to help us achieve some general fund savings while also being able to protect those court operations," said California Finance Director Ana Matosantos.

Mikhail Kharchenko is trying to get custody of his two daughters and can't afford a court date so far away.

"If I won't be able to see my kids for that long, it'll just devastate me. I wouldn't know what to do," said Karchenko.

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