AP: Judges say courts under siege from budget cuts

From the Associated Press:

LOS ANGELES—A famous judge sits in a cold, shuttered courtroom pushing papers while the California Supreme Court chief justice fumes over the state of court funding.

“I hear people on television all the time saying, ‘We’ll have our day in court,'” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. “And I nudge my husband and say, ‘Don’t they know there aren’t any courts anymore?'”

The statement is an exaggeration, but it emphasizes frustration by those in the court system over budget cuts that have closed courtrooms around the state, halted new construction and taken a toll on the administration of justice.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, focusing heavily on education with scant mention of courts, provided disappointment to judges as it proposed taking $200 million from court construction funds to postpone additional court cuts after hundreds of millions of dollars were previously slashed.

Ten courthouses—from Beverly Hills to Pomona— are set to close in Los Angeles County alone and seven will close in Fresno County. Some people with legal problems in San Bernardino and Humboldt Counties may have to drive hours to find a courtroom. Once they get there they will probably wait in long lines.

“This has been a slow motion train wreck since 2008,” said Judge Lance Ito, the judge who oversaw the murder trial of O.J. Simpson and now shuttles between courts after his courtroom was closed in the latest budget cutbacks.

He can be found either filling in for a sick judge or reviewing petitions from life-term prisoners in a courtroom stripped of chairs in the jury box and witness stand. His robe is in the closet until he’s called to help in another court.

“I have no staff, no bailiff, no court reporter and I have to persuade friendly clerks to enter minute orders,” Ito said. “There’s no heat in here and the furniture has been cannibalized.”


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