Still reeling from the latest episode of “justice gone wrong” in the Casey Anthony trial, Americans everywhere are scratching their heads wondering what next? Well, how about this, America’s judicial system, already deaf, dumb and blind, is now broke! No, not as in broken, we already knew it was broken, but broke as in out of money! Strapped for cash!
As a result of our current state budget crisis the California court system suffered a$200 million reduction earlier this year and stands to lose an additional $150million this fiscal year. Courthouses across the state are running on shoestring budgets. The situation has gotten so bad that California’s Chief Justice has warned that these cuts will “threaten access to justice for all.”
It’s bad, really bad. Courts are being forced to find ways to streamline their operation. Most have had to reduce their hours of operation, fire and lay off staff, freeze salaries and hiring, and increase filing fees. In addition some courts have been forced to divert funds from civil trials and in extreme cases shut courts down completely. Many courthouses are now relying on volunteers to keep things running. In fact 65 part time California judges who were dismissed earlier this year, continue to volunteer their services to ensure that the courts work continues.
Can you believe it? It’s ridiculous! Courts are a vital part of the democratic process. They have a constitutional obligation to resolve criminal and civil matters. In order to do so courts must be adequately funded so that they can be properly staffed. 90% of the courts budget is spent on personnel expenses, so cutting staff is the only option the courts have other than simply shutting its doors. Cutting their funding only further hurts the people of California.
Have our leaders and reps up in Sacramento lost their mind? I think so! And so have our leaders in Washington. These devastating and crippling cuts are not limited to only California. This problem is nationwide! 32 states experienced budget cuts last year and 28 others in 2011. And it only getting worse.
These cuts come at a time when courts need more resources not less. We all know that in tough economic times the number of foreclosure filings, consumer debt filings, domestic violence and crime increase, so there is a greater need for our courts to be properly staffed. These judicial budgetary cuts result in only a short term solution to the states money woes, but will have a long term negative consequence for the the state. Failing to fund our courts is an accident waiting to happen. We are on the verge of a major judicial disaster. The era of a speedy trial or having your day in court may be passing away. Oh you may still get your day in court but you may have to wait a whole lot longer to get that day because the way its looking, the court house will be closed more days than it will be open.