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On Friday, Judicial Council members heard sometimes heartbreaking testimony about the effects of an estimated $59 million budget cut facing California courts. “These budget cuts are not just about the courts,” California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George told the council at a meeting in San Francisco. “They are about access to justice on behalf of the people.” Added State Bar President Anthony Capozzi: “Government without a functioning judicial system is not a government as we know it.” The California court system has taken approximately $300 million in cuts over the past three years. Courts are also committed to spending between $100 to $200 million in mandated costs for the coming fiscal year, including employee wages and workers compensation coverage. With a $12 billion state budget deficit still looming, the court system is being asked to shoulder some sort of a cut to its $2.5 billion budget Senate Budget Chairman Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, said the Judicial Council and the Department of Finance are currently in “intense” budget negotiations, in an attempt to “reach a compromise” on budget cuts, but said he had no figures to report. For months, Dunn has tried to document the realities of those potential cuts in a series of six budget hearings around the state. In each of those hearings, dozens of local judges, court personnel, victims, witnesses and users of court services have explained how budget cuts are affecting state residents. On Friday, some of those stories were repeated to the 27-member council, with witnesses reiterating the effect of budget cuts on users of the court that Dunn described as “real people” — family members who said court funding made it possible for them to adopt children, get help filing restraining orders against their abusive husbands, and even kick drugs with thanks to a special drug court program in Fresno County. Previous cuts to the court budget, coupled with a growing state population, have already led to long lines in places like Sacramento, where, said Sacramento County Superior Court Executive Officer Jody Patel, residents have to wait as long as an hour and a half just to pay traffic fines. Some advocates at Friday’s council hearing pointed to the cost savings court-funded programs have been able to deliver — $30,000 per year for every potential prison inmate who can be diverted to alternate programs, $5,000 per month for every child who does not have to be placed in foster care when their parents avoid incarceration. But, added Thomas Warwick Jr., of the San Diego County Bar Association, some savings can’t be tallied. “How much is a crack baby worth?” asked Warwick. “How much is a black eye worth? How much is a broken arm worth? How much is a death worth?”

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