A revised budget proposal unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday adds $30 million to the judiciary to pay for 25 new trial court judgeships, addressing one of the top priorities of judicial branch leaders and attorneys’ groups this year.
The new bench positions, if approved by the Legislature during budget negotiations, would finally fund half of the 50 judgeships that lawmakers created—but did not provide money for—in 2007.
Judges and court administrators along with the plaintiffs bar and defense counsel have lobbied for more than a decade for the new jurists with limited success. Gov. Jerry Brown, in his final budget, funded just two of the 50 judgeships last year, sending both to Riverside County.
Now, with a flush state budget heading toward what is likely to be an easy passage in the Legislature next month, Newsom said he is ready to provide the funding needed for the new judges and their related staff.
At a press conference, the governor cited Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye “for her leadership and her stubbornness, which I say very proudly, in demanding that these dollars are there on behalf of the courts. She’s been rightfully frustrated that we have provided for judges but we haven’t funded the judges. And finally we’re in a position to fund at least 25 judges.”
Newsom’s original $209 billion state budget proposal, released in January, included an additional $327 million for the judiciary, including new money for branch technology projects, deferred maintenance, a boost in spending for increased employee health and retirement costs, and $9.5 million for pay hikes for appellate court and Judicial Council workers.
The governor’s updated spending plan maintains those expenditures while adding another $33.9 million in federal and state funding for more attorneys in dependency cases, $20 million for legal aid for renters in landlord-tenant disputes, almost $10 million for additional interpreters and $5 million to handle an increase in appellate case workload.
The proposal also raises a 1% cap on the amount of reserves that trial courts can carry to 3%, another top priority of judiciary leaders.
“The governor’s revision to his state budget proposal reflects his deep support for our goal of achieving equal access to justice for all Californians—wherever they live,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a prepared statement.
The creation of 25 new judgeships would give Newsom some of his first judicial appointments after Brown filled almost every vacancy before he left in January.
Newsom said Thursday that he and his judicial appointments secretary, former First District Court of Appeal Justice Martin Jenkins, will place an emphasis on diversity, “not just from the perspective of race or ethnicity but also geography, age—a bench that represents not just a prosecutorial bent but a defense bent, a consumer bent, an individual liberty bent. We’re broadening that scope.”
Where any new judges go will depend on the findings of a judicial needs study due out in late summer. A preliminary assessment done last year shows that the Inland Empire—Riverside and San Bernardino counties—are most in need of new judges. Other courts in the Central Valley, including Kern, San Joaquin, Fresno and Stanislaus counties, are also likely to receive some of the new judgeships.
Nancy Drabble, chief executive officer of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said the additional judges should “alleviate backlogs of civil cases, which have faced major delays in many regions of the state.”