- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s court system is in stronger financial shape after years of budget cuts, but it needs the Legislature’s help - and more funding - to adopt innovative and efficient practices, the state’s top judge said Monday.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told a joint session of the Legislature that she appreciates Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers’ efforts to restore funding to courts.

“We’ve seen some new investment back into the judicial branch,” she said in her fourth annual State of the Judiciary address. “But as you know, it’s not enough. We fall short, as is evidenced by our continued court closings, courthouse closures, reduced hours and our employees who are still, yes, on furlough.”

Cantil-Sakauye, who was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, has used each address to lawmakers to call for more funding.

Since 2008, state courts grappled with about $1 billion in funding cuts that led to the closure of 52 courthouses and 202 courtrooms, 4,000 lost jobs, and reduced hours for public service at 30 courts, according to court staff.

The $1 billion in cuts from the state’s main operating budget have been partially offset by other sources of revenue. Taking that into account, Brown’s budget proposal would bring state trial court funding to $250 million less than pre-recession levels, according to reports by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The chief justice said courts have found creative ways to deal with the cuts, including self-help centers for Californians who represent themselves in court. She highlighted a rise in collaborative courts that link rehabilitative services including drug treatment and counseling that aim to reduce recidivism and repeat court visits and tackle the “ills of our contemporary society.”

She said the court is also adapting to the 21st century with a new initiative to help non-English-speaking residents understand what’s happening during hearings, and to make more court filings and business available online.

“That’s the expectation of the future,” she said.

She also told lawmakers to expect proposals from the California Judges Association to encourage “innovation and efficiencies” in court.

Her speech didn’t address a report blasting how California courts manage taxpayer money.

The state auditor issued a report in January questioning $30 million in compensation and other expenses during a four-year period by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the agency that administers the court system. The audit found eight of the nine office directors were paid more than $179,000, which is more than other high-ranking state officials with broader responsibilities.

Cantil-Sakauye also credited the governor on Monday for creating one of the nation’s most diverse judicial branches. She was joined by the two newest Supreme Court justices appointed by Brown: Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, who was born in Mexico, and Leondra Kruger, who is black. The seven-member high court has both a female and racial-minority majority.

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