AND JUSTICE FOR ALL* – THE STATE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT *Please hold. All of our clerks are currently busy. Your plea for justice is important to us. Please hold. By Hon. David Danielsen Budget, Budget, Budget. That is all we have been talking about for years. How is the health of the superior court? Things seem better. Are they? Can one definitely say that things are not worse, i.e. better than things have been? Really? Or are we just getting used to it? Or just getting tired of hearing about it and talking about it? The new budget has been signed and there is new money, a 5% increase, for the trial courts. That’s good. But it has to be measured against the deep cuts of the immediate past and increased costs. San Diego’s share of this increase is adjusted by the workload allocation funding model (WAFM) adopted 2013 by the Judicial Council and reflects the important ongoing priority of beginning to address the historical county to county funding inequities statewide. Translation – the net is not going to be a 5% increase for us. The budget has other money in it for the courts. There is money to pay for local employee benefits, but it is for last year and the year before – paying back money that is already spent. And the cost of this year’s and next year’s benefits are going up. A new Union contract has cost a bit more. There may be a little more grant money for use in the collaborative courts. One time money is coming for Prop 47. So things are not worse. But they are not markedly better. We are still in trouble. We still have the same basic problem. Not enough people. Not enough modern improvements to avail ourselves of the benefits of technology. Not enough
training dollars. Not enough of anything to respond to changing times, demographics or priorities. We still have not dealt with the basic fact that the trial courts have had their budgets slashed and services have been slashed. The little new money does nothing to fix the roller coaster of inadequate funding that still comes from a combination of not enough stable ongoing state general fund tax dollars supplemented by “pay to play” fines, fees and assessments, single purpose grants and one time moneys (many of which are reimbursement after the fact). In the court world, budgets are cobbled together on a wing and a prayer and projections. Sound business practices like saving funds by belt tightening and earmarking dollars for special projects or improvements are all but prohibited by a strict limit of 1% on fund balances at fiscal year-end (no reserves or rainy day funds for the judiciary).
fiscal year, is wonderful, but one really wonders how to spend it. Are temporary project workers really good government? Reassigning the too few existing court employees means other work will be delayed or undone in addition to the work that is already delayed or undone. Wanted: trained judicial branch clerical staff for temp work.
The Court is an institution that must be there year after year with enough adequately trained staff to handle the variety of ways our society seeks justice when they seek it. A justice system funded at 68% of identified need can never meet 100% of the critical needs of our constituents in a timely fashion.
Delay and backlog are not justice; they are not a sound justice strategy as an alternative to adequate funding.
Proposition 47 is a prime example. New work arrived on the day after the November ballot. As of today, 35,773 petitions have been filed and require due processing. Not a dime has yet been seen for the project. Don’t get me wrong. Funding, even one time funding arriving 8 months into the work and which has to be spent in this upcoming
Therein lies the rub. The institution needs to have adequate resources and adequate trained staff ready in place to cope with society’s needs and justice demands. Now, the new challenge is Proposition 47, and then we will move on to the next big thing. The funding and the people to handle the next big thing still won’t be there. Every day we have the steady flow of civil and criminal, family and probate, juvenile and small claims and traffic, all of which are impacted daily by an institution that can’t currently meet the demand.
Hon. David Danielsen is Presiding Judge of the San Diego Superior Court. July/August 2015 SAN DIEGO LAWYER 19
Published on Aug 13, 2015
Inside this Issue: Our Annual State of the Courts Update; Juvenile Dependency Court: Working Towards Healing; Court Funding Cuts by the Numb...