California’s courts would see a sizable funding boost as part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s $4.9 billion judicial branch budget package that reflects a commitment to cybersecurity and other tech investments.
According to the report by Courthouse News, the proposal includes $34.7 million for electronic filing, digitizing records and updating case management software in fiscal year 2022-23, with plans to increase that amount to $40.3 million in fiscal year 2025-26.
It also devotes $33.2 million for better access to remote proceedings each year for two years, with $1.6 million in ongoing funding thereafter. “These resources will be used to provide a publicly accessible audio stream for every courthouse in the state,” Newsom said.
Cybersecurity and remote technology have taken center stage as courts moved proceedings online during the Covid-19 pandemic, a change made all the more permanent with the passage of Assembly Bill 716 last year. AB 716 requires courts to provide streaming audio or a public call-in line when courthouses close for public health reasons.
Discussing budget priorities with reporters in December, Judicial Council administrative director Martin Hoshino said “There’s a big year coming up for the trial courts. In this window in time we see the courts are still dealing with pandemic impacts, trying to safety operate and having some limited operational capacities. At the same time they have to groove and balance two modes of operation, which are in-person and remote stuff that people have pivoted to during the pandemic. We’re pushing hard for funds to be able to support so we can find our way through that in this particular year,”
The budget proposal also provides funding for other online services, like $2.6 million in 2022-23 and $1.7 million ongoing for electronic filing systems for domestic and gun violence restraining orders.
Newsom also assigned $15 million in general fund dollars to “timely and accurate data collection” from trial and appellate courts, saying, “This investment will enhance the ability of all three branches of government to assess court programs and resource needs.”
Criminal fines and accompanying administrative fees have historically been a leading source of court funding for the courts – adding $1 billion in revenue in 2020-21. But with the support of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Newsom and his predecessor Jerry Brown have sought to eliminate what they see as undue burdens on the poor.
Other funds include $42.6 million in 2022-23 and $42.3 million ongoing to hire 23 state court judges, funding for new courthouses in Fresno, Santa Clarita, Fairfield, Quincy, and San Luis Obispo, as well as three projects already approved by the council — a new courthouse in Mendocino County and renovations to juvenile facilities in San Bernardino and Butte counties.
Newsom’s proposal drew an initial positive reaction from the chief justice on Monday. “I welcome the governor’s continuing commitment to sustainable funding in his budget proposal for the judicial branch. He clearly recognizes how important equal access to justice is for all Californians,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to working on this landmark budget proposal with his administration and the Legislature in the next few months as the budget becomes finalized.”