The Legislature and governor may have just slapped harsh spending restrictions on her judicial branch, but Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye insists that she’s “pleased” with new policies contained in the state budget enacted this week.
That’s what she told reporters on a Friday conference call. Along with $544 million in cuts to the courts, the budget bars the Judicial Council from spending trial court money on statewide programs without the Legislature’s consent. Since late 2009, branch leaders have tapped roughly $200 million from the Trial Court Trust Fund to pay for technology maintenance and projects, according to council meeting records. The shifts steamed council critics who wanted the money to go directly to courts.
The council will keep control of a much smaller pot of money created by merging two other funds.
Cantil-Sakauye said the spending restrictions won’t affect the Administrative Office of the Courts at all.
“The cuts we obviously opposed, but in terms of the concepts that are contained within the [budget] bill? No, no opposition to that,” she said. “We approved that concept for clarity.”
That’s not what those in the Capitol say they were hearing from Judicial Council lobbyists. Those familiar with the budget trailer bill’s drafting say council representatives fought restrictions on branch spending.
And the chief justice’s tone has turned much more conciliatory since she took aim at Assembly Bill 1208 earlier this year. The bill would have blocked the Judicial Council from spending any trial court money on programs unless two-thirds of local courts OK’d the transfer. In January, Cantil-Sakauye called the Assembly’s passage of AB 1208 “no victory for Californians, for our state courts or for equal access to justice.” The bill later died in the Senate.
On Friday, the chief justice said she saw no similarities between the budget language and AB 1208.
“Have you read 1208?” she asked reporters. “That’s not how I see it. In terms of the language [restricting] the Trial Court Trust Fund, I’m happy for the clarity. I appreciate that. Judicial Council appreciates that clarity.”