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California Courts Are Adjourned to Save Money, but at What Cost to Justice?

By Kevin Fayle on September 16, 2009 11:39 AM

Are you reading this at work?  If so, odds are you don't work for the California state courts, the nation's largest court system.

Except for a few workers who are being kept on for emergency situations, the California state courts were closed today for the first of ten furlough days imposed in order to make up for cuts in the court system's budget.  
The closures will occur on the third Wednesday of every month, and are expected to save around $90 million.  Much of that money is coming from the wages and salaries of courthouse workers, many of whom are understandably upset.  A protest is planned for today in front of the San Francisco Administrative Office of the Courts. 

The furlough doesn't apply to California's roughly 1,700 judges, but most of them have agreed to take a voluntary pay cut to reflect the furlough days.

The furlough is expected to cause disruptions for litigants, witnesses and jurors and generally increase the backlog of cases working their way through the system.  Several commentators have also noted that the furlough days may cause additional delays beyond just the lost Wednesday if attorneys have to re-subpoena witnesses or expert witnesses become unavailable because of scheduling conflicts. 

The council that voted for the furloughs seems to have done so reluctantly, and some of its members are the first to admit that the situation is less than optimal.

"This is such an extraordinary undertaking, and it's unprecedented, but it doesn't feel good," said San Francisco Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss, as quoted by KCBS. "It leaves you with something in the pit of your stomach."

Chief Justice Ronald George of the California Supreme Court also regrets the closure, but says it's just "one more symptom of things breaking down in California."

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