California has a new governor, and advocates of the judiciary could not be more prepared.
Gone is Gov. Jerry Brown, a stingy court-funder whose annual judiciary budgets emphasized restraint, demanded efficiencies and placed restrictions on new spending.
In Brown’s place is Gov. Gavin Newsom, the son of the late First District Court of Appeal Justice William Newsom Jr., whom lawyers, judges and court workers are hoping will grant some pretty significant asks.
Newsom has barely been in office for three months, but lawmakers and lobbyists are already asking his administration for new judgeships, more money to free up calendars for civil cases and an end to limits on the reserves that courts can keep.
“There seems to be a consensus that the time has come to invest more resources in the judicial branch,” said Mike Belote, a lobbyist for the California Judges Association and the California Defense Counsel. “We’re delighted to see it.”
Newsom’s first budget, released in January, offered no obvious signals that the governor is ready to open the flood gates on court spending. His proposal included an extra $327 million for the judiciary—a nearly 8 percent boost—with much of the money going to cover higher salary and benefits costs, deferred maintenance and a pilot program on pretrial detention.
But judiciary branch advocates point to other signs that Newsom may be more receptive to the courts than his predecessor. Newsom attended Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature last month, marking the first time a governor appeared at the annual event. And he appointed Anthony Williams, a former Judicial Council advocate, his legislative secretary.
Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, introduced legislation at the start of the session to create six new trial court judgeships at a cost of almost $9 million. Roth has tried for years to get new bench positions for the fast-growing Inland Empire and other areas around the state only to see his requests blocked by the Brown administration or severely pared down. In 2017, in Brown’s traditionally thrifty fashion, the governor agreed to give four new judgeships to Riverside and San Bernardino counties but only by moving two vacant judgeships from Alameda County and two more from Santa Clara County.
This year, after talking with Cantil-Sakauye, Roth decided to bump up his request to 25 judges and $37 million.
“I learned that the chief justice was planning to go into the governor’s office herself and ask for an enhanced number of judges, specifically 25,” Roth said. “I wanted to be sure we were singing off the same sheet of music.”
Roth said he’s optimistic about his chances, if only because Brown filled almost every judicial vacancy before he was termed out of office in January.
“Governors enjoy the opportunity to appoint various people to various positions, including judgeships,” Roth said. “If the governor wants to appoint new judges, he’s going to have to fund some new positions.”
Labor groups representing court employees have also proposed that the governor add an automatic inflation factor to trial court budgets that would increase allocations annually. And they’re asking the governor and the Legislature to remove caps on the amount of money that courts can keep in reserves.
Newsom will release his updated budget proposal next month.