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California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye talks budget issues

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye talks to Eyewitness News in an exclusive interview about the crisis in the state courts.
April 4, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
A dozen new Los Angeles judges were sworn in on Friday, but that will barely make a dent in the backlog of cases.

The 12 new judges are filling vacancies in the Los Angeles County court. They are not expanding the court system, which is on the verge of a civil rights crisis, according to California's Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who sat down with Eyewitness News for an exclusive interview.

Chief justices rarely agree to interviews, but Cantil-Sakauye is adamant the $105 million the governor added to the judicial budget is not nearly enough.

"The branch is where it is now in 2014, because since 2008, over a billion dollars has been taken from the Judicial Branch as a result of the state financial crisis in the last five years," Cantil-Sakauye said. "If the Judicial Branch received two pennies on every dollar, I'd stop my demands and requests for additional funding. We serve 38 million Californians on a penny of every dollar. General funds support for the third branch of government has failed. It's absolutely a skeleton of what it used to be."

The chief justice says it will actually take $266 million to keep the courts running as they are and more than double that to fully serve the public.

I told Cantil-Sakauye that the governor's budget seems to say that the court hasn't done enough to become more efficient to employ more high-tech strategy.

"We did not mismanage ourselves into this position. A billion dollars was taken. Can we be more efficient? Should we be? Yes and yes, and technology would lead the way in that regard and we're working on that," she replied.

I pointed out that that costs money too.

"You're going to have to spend a little to save a little," Cantil-Sakauye said.

The state Supreme Court met in Los Angeles this week, taking a moment to recognize its longest serving member, Joyce Kennard, who is retiring.

But it is the closed courts, the backlogs and the furloughs that the chief justice wants the state's lawmakers to see. She characterizes this situation as a "civil rights crisis."

"Many of our civil rights, as you know, are embedded in civil actions, and those actions took the brunt of the reductions to the Judicial Branch," Cantil-Sakauye said.

The state budget deadline is two months away that's all the time Cantil-Sakauye has to convince the legislature to give the court system more money.


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