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Chief Justice Ronald George and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger plan to meet for the first time in person today. No. 1 on George’s agenda for the meeting is protecting the judicial branch’s budget. The courts suffered severe cuts this year because of California’s dire budget situation, and judicial administrators are already bracing for more bad news later this year and next. “I want to point out what’s in jeopardy when [Schwarzenegger's team] faces bringing the fiscal state in order,” George said. The chief has never met the actor-turned-politician. The meeting was scheduled after Schwarzenegger called George at his home last week. Schwarzenegger’s press office did not return a call seeking comment about the meeting. So far, Schwarzenegger’s thoughts on the judiciary, like many issues, are unknown. There is some talk of the courts on his campaign Web site, but it’s mostly criticism directed at trial lawyers. Schwarzenegger, like other Republicans, believes lawsuits help make California unfriendly to business. George said he hopes to point out to Schwarzenegger that cutting the courts would adversely impact businesses. “The courts are not a luxury to be funded just in good times,” George said. To illustrate the importance of maintaining the judicial branch budget, George said he plans to give the governor-elect a brief history of the recent major changes to the state court system, including unification and state trial court funding. George will emphasize that the effects of many of those changes — which are meant to modernize and make the courts more accessible — would be jeopardized if the courts were subjected to more cuts. The chief made a similar pitch earlier this year when he told legislators that cutting the budget reduces court access, especially for poor people. Although he doesn’t yet know how well his pitch will be received, George said he’ll also point out that many of the changes — though shepherded by Gov. Gray Davis — began under Schwarzenegger’s political mentor, Gov. Pete Wilson. Wilson also made George chief justice. The court budget was not strictly a partisan issue this year. Politicians on both sides of the table wanted to drastically reduce court funding, and it was only the intervention of two lawyers-turned-senators — Democrat Joe Dunn of Garden Grove and Republican Dick Ackerman of Tustin — that helped mitigate the damage.

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