March 11, 2013

California “on the wrong side of history in funding justice”

As scheduled, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye today addressed the Legislature. Not surprisingly, much of her second State of the Judiciary address focused on the severe funding shortage for the courts. Accompanied by Associate Justices Marvin Baxter, Kathryn Werdegar, Ming Chin, and Goodwin Liu, the Chief Justice used the United Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright — which celebrates its 50th anniversary next week — as a parable.

The Chief Justice said that Gideon shows “what’s necessary for meaningful access to the courts” and teaches “how necessary a courtroom is as a forum for justice.” Unfortunately, she said, “what we once counted on, that courts would be open and ready and available to deliver prompt justice, is no longer true in California.” This is so, the Chief Justice claimed, because of the “dubious distinction that our state judicial branch budget has been cut . . . deeper than any other in the United States,” receiving only one cent of every dollar of the state’s general fund.

The Chief Justice told the joint session of the Senate and Assembly that she worries “that California is on the wrong side of history in funding justice.” She urged the legislators “to reinvest in justice.”

The Chief Justice’s address was greeted with a warm standing ovation, but there was no sign of any immediate loosening of the legislative purse strings.

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