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The Bee reports that Sacramento County Superior Court has swallowed a 23 percent budget cut over the last five years. With 230 of 800 employees gone, the pain is acute in every aspect of court operations. Twenty-five court counter windows have closed. Courts remain open, but the wheels of justice grind so slowly that a lot of people have given up. Statewide, civil filings dropped 43 percent over three years ending in fiscal 2011-12. “Access to justice has been hurt badly, and it affects everybody in the community,” said Robert Hight, the court’s presiding judge. In Sacramento, the queue at family court can take seven hours. Small-claims courts are on life support, if they operate at all. And getting a trial date is not a guarantee there will be a courtroom available that day. Some local trials have been continued to a later date multiple times, for months at a time.

The cuts hurt companies large and small, say business advocates. A worker who needs a restraining order but fails to make it to the front of the line will have to go back another day. The attorney whose trial was bumped will have to prepare for trial all over again. “I think some people are giving up,” Hight said. Couples frustrated with family court split and don’t file, he said. And some business owners resolve disputes outside the court system. They pay for private alternative dispute-resolution services instead of using the tax-supported justice system.

As stated in a 2009 New York Times editorial, “[A]t some point, slashing state court financing jeopardizes something beyond basic fairness, public safety, and even the rule of law. It weakens democracy itself.” Since 2009 when this editorial was published, California trial courts have lost nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in State General Fund support.

California has the largest judicial system of any state, but it has suffered the deepest financial reduction of any state, according to a new report on the state of the judiciary in Sacramento County. Statewide, the judicial branch has undergone $1 billion in cuts over the last six years. Fifty-one courthouses and 205 courtrooms have closed. After five years of court cuts, there is no fat left in the system. “People lose faith and feel it is no longer open to them,” said Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice of the California Supreme Court. “It’s a nefarious way to deny people their rights.”

Because the federal Constitution gives priority to criminal cases, state budget cuts have disproportionately affected civil courts where most business cases are filed. A 10 percent cut in court funding translates to a 40 to 50 percent cut in access to justice in civil cases because that’s the only place to cut, said Nancy Drabble, executive director of the California Consumer Attorneys Association. This of course has an adverse effect on Workers’ Compensation subrogation efforts. Delays affect both employees and employers, said Allen Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget includes $100 million for trial court operations and $5 million to support the state judiciary. Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice of the California Supreme Court