The Judicial Council at its May 15 teleconference meeting received a report on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised proposal for the 2020–21 state budget and its potential reductions to judicial branch funding.
To address a projected $54.3 billion budget gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recession, the proposal reflects substantial budget cuts throughout state government, including the judicial branch. The proposal calls for a 10% reduction to court operations funding for FY 2020–21 and another 5% reduction for FY 2021–22, among other cuts. The proposal also includes $50 million to help courts handle an anticipated surge in case filings as courts restore operations that were restricted due to the health crisis.
“The judicial branch is willing to share in the sacrifice as long as cuts are equitable across state government, recognizing the distinction made for vulnerable populations hit especially hard by this health and fiscal crisis,” said the council’s Administrative Director Martin Hoshino. “We also appreciate that the proposed budget acknowledges the anticipated surge in cases and workload as courts start to restore services. I want to ensure you the council will continue to be focused on assisting the frontline efforts of judges, court employees, and justice partners as they facilitate access to justice for individuals and communities throughout California.”
Hoshino added that judicial branch leaders will continue discussions over the next few weeks with the Executive and the Legislative branches to pass a balanced budget by the June 15 deadline. Given the uncertainty of state General Fund revenues, he cautioned additional changes may affect the final budget.
Restoring Court Services
The council received an update on planning efforts underway to help courts in their efforts to restore services impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this week, the council launched the Pandemic Continuity of Operations Working Group, a diverse roster of 22 superior court presiding judges and court executive officers that will gather best practices—from both inside and outside the judicial branch—to create a template courts can customize as the state, counties, and cities begin to lift or modify public health restrictions. The group hopes to develop the template by early June.
Other items on the council meeting agenda included:
Veterans Courts: The council received a statewide report on veterans treatment courts. The findings indicated that veterans courts are successful in connecting veterans to behavioral health treatment, improving housing and employment outcomes, and supporting social stability.
Language Needs in the Courts: The council received The 2020 Language Need and Interpreter Use Study, which details interpreter use in the state’s trial courts and projects future language need. Criminal cases accounted for approximately 75% of all interpretations, but interpreter use in civil case types rose dramatically throughout the study period.
Legal Representation for Low-Income Parties: The council received a report on a pilot program making a dramatic improvement in case outcomes by providing low-income persons with attorneys in matters involving landlord/tenant issues, highly conflicted custody cases, and guardianships and conservatorships of the person. The council approved grant funding to continue the pilot program.