Posted September 23, 2014
On behalf of the San Mateo County Superior Court I wish to thank the countless members of our community who wrote letters, made phone calls, and lobbied the Governor and Legislature to restore funding to the trial courts. Although the recently passed state budget did not provide the level of fiscal relief we had hoped, it will save some jobs and preserve access to justice that would have otherwise been lost.
Unprecedented state budget cuts to the judicial branch over the past six years have been devastating to all California trial courts. Since 2008, over one billion dollars has been cut from the judicial branch. Partial restoration in the past two years (just over 10% in true restoration dollars) remains woefully inadequate to sustain all essential court services.
Throughout the state, Presiding Judges continue to speak out about the severe losses for state trial courts, our workforce and critical access to justice.
- In Los Angeles, Judge Wesley stated, "The fact is this year's state budget is a disaster for access to justice."
- In Sacramento, Judge Hight stated, "We are operating, but we're not serving the public very well."
- Recently, Santa Clara announced they will reduce their workforce by over 35% and close more courtrooms. Judge Walsh stated, "Unfortunately, the new trial court budget will lead to more courtroom closures, longer lines and greater delays in obtaining vital court orders."
- And we hear the same from San Diego, Shasta, Contra Costa, Fresno, Solano, Santa Barbara, Merced and other trial courts that plan to make further reductions.
Here in San Mateo, we foresaw the potential effect of these reductions as early as 2007 - and we took action. Our judges and administrative leadership, together with our court staff, have worked diligently and in partnership with our unions and justice agencies to effectively utilize technology, create efficiencies and savings, and consolidate our workforce to provide the best trial court services possible with the resources available.
At their highest point, state cuts necessitated reductions of over 33% of our San Mateo Superior Court workforce. Our reductions totaled 130 positions; in 2008 we had 385, in the 2013/14 fiscal year we were at 255. These ongoing cuts have caused us to shutter court houses and centralize services to Redwood City, lay off staff and Commissioners, reduce calendars, and cut public counter and phone hours.
We purposefully implemented court service reductions in incremental steps, intending to soften the loss of important services even as we worked hard to avoid them. These actions have been extremely difficult - we did not want to take them - but we have communicated them openly and well in advance, acted responsibly and are living within the limits of our reduced state funding support. With much hard work, we have successfully restored six court staff positions this July.
At the San Mateo Superior Court, we work with and for each other to achieve justice. Our disposition rate per judicial position (the number of court cases resolved per judicial officer) remains consistently among the highest for state trial courts. We remain committed to continuous improvement, creating efficiencies and effectively utilizing technology to maximize our productivity and court services, to benefit the public we all serve.
This said, we continue to face significant internal and external challenges to providing essential justice. Six restored positions cannot cover the workload of the 130 that have been lost - even after all reasonable efficiencies and productivity measures are accounted for. This means that until reasonable levels of trial court funding are restored, some level of delay will almost certainly continue. Our lines will remain long, our hours open to the public remain reduced and the public will continue to experience significant delays. A number of areas in our Clerk's Office remain stretched as we continuously work to allocate our workforce where it is most needed.
Externally, many of our neighboring courts are faced with the challenges of further reducing services and the Judicial Branch as a whole is faced with another year of failing to effectively convince state leaders to provide essential court funding. As a result, justice remains at risk state-wide. The fact remains that we've received back too little of what has been taken from the Judicial Branch through severe, disproportionate state cuts that have continued since 2008 and, as a result, our trial courts remain dangerously under-funded.
Trial courts protect public rights, public freedom and public safety. They are relied upon to provide essential services and support for individuals, families and our community. I urge everyone to remain vigilant in reminding state lawmakers that a strong economy relies on a judicial system that works. Your continued support is essential as we strive to seek appropriate funding levels for the court.
Robert D Foiles, Presiding Judge