Rebuilding California’s courts
It’s time to put money designated for construction to work doing that, not funding ongoing operations.
In 2008, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to increase the cost of parking tickets and a range of other civil and criminal fines and fees to raise money to begin repairing and rebuilding dangerous, outdated and inaccessible courthouses across the state. But almost as soon as the higher fees were in place, lawmakers and the governor declared a budget emergency and temporarily diverted much of the new money to fund ongoing court operations.
Now the state’s biggest trial court, the Los Angeles County Superior Court, sees years of further budget shortfalls ahead and says that it may need to lay off as much as a third of its nonjudicial staff over the next three years to make ends meet. To avoid those layoffs and, more to the point, to avert a large-scale courtroom shutdown that could delay justice for many litigants — from residents seeking divorce and child custody to corporations suing one another — court leaders here want to put off the construction program for at least one more year so they can again divert the money to operations.
But such diversions cannot go on forever. There almost certainly will never be a time when courts are so knee-deep in money that judges, court administrators and Sacramento lawmakers will lose all temptation to grab the construction funds. Today’s court operations funding problem could well be severe, but so is the need to replace or repair dozens of ramshackle, outmoded, unsafe and just plain inconveniently located courtrooms in many of California’s 58 counties, including Los Angeles. The funds — authorized by legislation known as SB 1407 — should finally be allowed to do their work.