SAN FRANCISCO–At a public meeting Thursday, the Judicial Council of California approved the continuation of one-day-a-month court closures through June 2010, in response to severe budget reductions in the judicial branch budget for fiscal year 2009-2010.
“Today’s action to continue court closures through June 2010 reflects the severity of the state’s economic crisis and the unprecedented reductions in the judicial branch budget,” stated Chief Justice Ronald M. George, chair of the 28-member council, the administrative policymaking agency for state courts.
“The council’s decision does not lessen our longstanding goal to provide access to justice for Californians,” he continued. “For this reason, the council today reaffirmed its commitment to seek adequate resources from the Governor and Legislature to avoid statewide court closures in the next fiscal year.”
The court closures are designed as a uniform cost-saving tool to assist California courts in absorbing substantial budget reductions imposed in fiscal year 2009-2010. The closures were authorized by Government Code section 68106, passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor as part of this year’s state budget.
At a public meeting on July 29, 2009, the Judicial Council designated the third Wednesday of each month from September 2009 through June 2010 as a uniform statewide court closure day. The council directed that on that day, all superior courts, Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court would be closed. The Administrative Office of the Courts closes on the same day as the courts.
At the time the court closures were approved, the Judicial Council directed that an evaluation be conducted of the impact of closures on the courts, the public, and justice system partners. The evaluation included statewide survey responses of 54 superior courts, all 6 Courts of Appeal, the Supreme Court, and 275 justice system partners.
The evaluation report included the following findings:
· By June 2010, it is estimated that the total cost reductions achieved as result of statewide court closures will be approximately $63.3 million.
· This figure includes estimated savings for the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal, and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) that will exceed the initial partial year savings estimate of $8.5 million by about 13 percent.
· The impact of the court closures varied considerably from court to court. Although a few courts reported that there was no discernible impact or minimal impact, many courts reported there was some real impact on court operations and court users, as the council anticipated.
· There were mixed findings on the selection of Wednesday as the court closure day. Many trial courts disagreed with the selection of that day, although others felt differently. Some courts asserted that the selection of Wednesday had no greater or lesser impact than any other day of the week; others found Wednesday to the best day. Justice system partners also expressed mixed views.
· By a margin of nearly three to one, trial courts believed it would be more confusing for court users if the closures occurred on different days of the month. Courts reported that the statewide uniformity of the court closure day made the delivery of the message to the public easier and prevented confusion among court users.
· Justice system partners generally reported that if the courts are going to close one day a month, it is best that the day be uniform statewide.
· The Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal reported considerably less impact on court operations and calendaring. The selection of Wednesday was not seen as problematic, and one-third believe it was the best day to select.
In addition to continuing court closures through June 2010, the council also reaffirmed its commitment to advocate for sufficient resources in the next fiscal year to avoid the need for further court closures. The council directed that recommendations and uniform guidelines be developed for limited closures of courts, on a court-by-court basis, if the Legislature and Governor do not provide sufficient resources for the judicial branch in fiscal year 2010-2011. That plan will be presented to the council for consideration at its April 2010 meeting.