It was Chief Justice Ronald George’s 12th annual State of the Judiciary Address. He asked lawmakers to support funding for 50 more judgeships. He says in some counties civil courts have been shut down temporarily because there aren’t enough judges to handle the cases. But he says the biggest challenge over the next decade will come from people representing themselves in civil court:
“In some counties litigants appear without an attorney in 85-90 percent of family law and landlord tenant matters.”
George says that can jeopardize individual rights – and damage confidence in the system. He maintains public safety is at risk, as well, due to decades of neglect to the courthouses themselves:
“In 40% of our court facilities, shackled prisoners are brought to criminal courtrooms through crowded public hallways.”
The Chief Justice is asking the legislature to include money for new and improved courthouses in a bond measure that would go to voters. Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines acknowledges the need for more judges and courthouses – but he notes it’s a year when there are many competing interests:
“Everybody’s coming saying we need to have money. I think what we have to do is start to make priorities. Prisons is a priority. The judiciary is a priority. Education is a priority.”
Villines says he served as a juror in a criminal trial this past summer in Fresno County. He says the crowds there made it clear to him at least some new facilities are needed.