The San Francisco Superior Court will furlough staff, cut clerk’s office hours and ask judges to donate one day of pay each month to help close a $5.3 million budget deficit.
Court workers will be furloughed one Friday each month, on a rotating schedule by department, starting Aug. 4 through June 2018. All clerks’ offices will close to the public at 1 p.m. on Fridays as of Sept. 1. Courtrooms will still remain operating on those days, although officials will adjust calendars to accommodate staff shortages.
“We are committed to keeping our courtrooms open and continuing to prioritize access to justice despite the 9 percent cut in our state funding allocation for the fiscal year that began” July 1, Presiding Judge Teri Jackson said in a prepared statement. “This contribution is a solution that will help us to avoid staff layoffs.”
Jackson has asked the court’s 52 judges to “consider a voluntary donation” of one day’s pay each month—about $509—to help close the funding gap.
The San Francisco Superior Court took the biggest hit of any county—from $56.9 million to $51.7 million, or about 9 percent—under the judiciary’s annual budget allocation system, known as the workload allocation funding methodology. Adopted in 2013, the formula attempts to equalize funding among courts throughout the state. It moves away from a system that doled out money based on what a court used to get under the old county-budgeting model and gives more funding to courts with higher caseloads. But it has also penalized courts that were historically well funded under county control.
Judicial branch leaders hoped Gov. Jerry Brown would boost trial court funding after they adopted the workload funding model. Brown has given the courts more money in some of the years since then—this year was largely a status quo budget—but not enough to make up for the cuts of the recession.
In preliminary figures for the 2017-18 fiscal year, 26 courts will lose funding under workload-model and 32 will gain. In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County is a funding “loser,” and officials there will be consolidating operations in four courtrooms to save money. Conversely, Contra Costa County is a funding “winner” and will receive an additional $1.2 million this fiscal year.
Alameda County courts have been donors for the last four years, leading to a reduction in clerks’ hours and a mandatory shutdown of non-urgent operations between Christmas and the new year. This year, court executive officer Chad Finke said he was preparing for another budget hit and possible layoffs. Instead, he recently learned that funding for Alameda County courts will remain relatively flat.
“A lot of the stuff that San Francisco is doing now we’ve already done,” Finke said.
The San Diego County Superior Court is also taking a budget hit, made worse by increased retirement costs and a decline in revenue generated by fees and assessments. Court leaders are planning to close 10 courtrooms, eliminate 65 positions through early retirement and curtail branch court services to deal with the cuts.
“What the system needs is adequate funding for our workload,” said Michael Roddy, executive officer of the San Diego County Superior Court.
Trial court judges and executive officers in February pleaded with the governor to add at least another $159 million to their budgets. No increase in funding, they wrote, would effectively mean “a budget cut for the courts and a reduction in access to justice for all Californians.”
State Finance Director Michael Cohen said in May that tough funding decisions had to be made throughout the budget and “if you put more money into the courts it’s coming from somewhere else.”