Superior Court of Alameda County expresses concern over governor’s budget

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The Superior Court of Alameda County announced in a press release Tuesday that it stands with the 48 other state trial courts that are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to provide them with adequate funding.

Presiding judges and court executive officers voiced their concerns with the lack of additional funding in an open letter that was signed by 49 out of California’s 58 trial courts. According to the press release, the budget could force courts to close courtrooms, limit clerk’s office hours, reduce self-help services and reduce staffing.

“Myself and a number of the trial court CEOs — we thought it was important to let the governor know that a flat budget is really a budget cut,” said Chad Finke, CEO of Alameda County courts. “If the funding keeps staying flat, our staff will continue to shrink, which means that the number of services and the level of service that we provide to the public are going to keep shrinking.”

The budget, released in early January, dedicates $2.8 billion to trial court operations within the judicial branch’s total funding of $3.6 billion. California faces a budget deficit of $2 billion in 2017, the first state deficit California has seen in the last four years.

H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the governor’s budget, said even during this period of deficit, the governor’s office has continued to put money in the judiciary budget to maintain funding for the branch.

“We have to view it in the larger context of what the state’s overall fiscal budget looks like,” Palmer said.

But according to Tirien Steinbach, executive director of the East Bay Community Law Center and lecturer in residence at UC Berkeley Boalt School of Law, the current budget is already impacting Alameda County community members and advocates.

“Reducing funds to courts is reducing access to justice for ordinary people who rely on the courts to help them stay housed and safe, vindicate wrongs and defend rights,” Steinbach said in an email. “Justice cannot afford deeper cuts.”

Palmer stated that the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System is currently evaluating access to justice in the state. He added that the governor’s office is committed to working with the commission, and that the recommendations released by the commission in spring 2017 will inform the governor’s budget revisal in May.

Contact Shayann Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shayannih.