California Bar Journal
CBJ - May 2012 #01.
Legal community rails against budget cuts
The California LawyerMay 2012Legal community rails against budget cuts By Laura Ernde Staff WriterSAN FRANCISCO - Former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno watched countless protests take place outside his office in Civic Center Plaza when he was on the court. He never imagined that one day he'd be a participant, he said.
But on April 18, Moreno and people from all corners of the legal community turned out by the hundreds on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to call for the restoration of trial court funding. In four years, state lawmakers have slashed $650 million from the judicial branch's budget and budget talks are once again heating up in Sacramento.
With no more one-time funding shifts to rely on, the fiscal crisis has come to a head. The courts are facing the possibility of another $125 million cut in 2012-13 if voters do not approve temporary sales and income tax increases Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking to place on the November ballot.
Staff layoffs, closed courtrooms and longer waits for service are hurting access to justice particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, said the speakers, who included judges, lawyers, policymakers and court employees.
"We are so far past (cutting) the fat, people. We are into the bone," said Kelly Dermody, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, which helped organize the rally.
Attorney General Kamala Harris said adequate court funding is essential so people have a place to go when their basic rights are in jeopardy. She urged the crowd to support "reasonable measures to bring resources into the state budget."
State Bar President Jon Streeter said the justice system is threatened "to an extent we have never seen in our professional lives" and warned of violence if people are turned away from the courthouse and take matters in to their own hands.
State Bar Executive Director Joseph L. Dunn, a former state senator, said lawmakers' understanding of the role of the judiciary in society hit a low 10 years ago and is even lower today.
"It's not that they're bad people," he said. "They need us to raise a voice in support of the judiciary."
A volunteer group calling itself the Open Courts Coalition is spearheading the lobbying efforts. Prominent...