Downsized Court System Doesn’t Sweat the Small Stuff like It Used To

Thursday, October 02, 2014


It is possible that a significant statewide decline in Superior Court case filings in 2012-13 means Californians are becoming less litigious and crime is abating.

But when the California Judicial Council released its annual Court Statistics Report (pdf) this month, Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, had another explanation.

He noted that the 9.7% decline in case filings “coincides with two other trends that have occurred as result of budget cuts to the judicial branch: the increase in court filing fees to offset General Fund budget cuts and closure of courthouses and/or the reduction of hours at our courthouses.”

Years of enormous budget cuts to California courts have taken a toll on the justice system, and the numbers indicate that people with fewer resources have been hit the hardest. Misdemeanors, infractions, small claims and civil claims under $25,000 declined the most.

Cases involving property damage, wrongful deaths, probate, felonies and some unlimited civil suits were up.

Total civil filings were down 7.5% last year. Traffic misdemeanors declined 17.5%, delinquency filings dropped 16.2%, small-claims were off 9%, non-traffic misdemeanor cases were down 8% and family law cases declined 6.5%. Felony cases rose 7% and probate cases edged up 0.6%.

The $1.1 billion dollars slashed from court budget since 2008 resulted in the closure of 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms. Thousands of employees were laid off, services were cut, courthouse hours were curtailed, lines grew longer at clerk windows, fees were raised and court dates were delayed.

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said the courts would need $1.2 billion over three years to restore justice to the system and $266 million this year just to tread water. Lawmakers and Governor Brown gave them $129 million.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Decrease in Court Filings, Rise in Costs a Concern to Court Officials (by Ryan Chalk, Vacaville Reporter)

Court Filings Decrease in Fiscal Year 2012–2013 (California Courts)

2014 Court Statistics Report: Statewide Caseload Trends (Judicial Council of California) (pdf)


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