Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed an annual budget bill that provides funding for 25 new judgeships throughout the state and the expansion of a pilot program to provide counsel in civil cases.
Some of the fastest growing but cash-strapped parts of the state – including San Bernardino and Riverside counties in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley’s Kern and Fresno counties – will receive additional judges to handle essential services, according to the Judicial Council.
The Legislature authorized 50 new judgeships in 2007, but the positions have gone unfunded until now. The budget authorization includes $30.4 million for 2019–20 (10 months of funding) and $36.5 million for ongoing.
In selecting lawyers for the bench, Newsom said he will continue the push to diversify California’s bench. His predecessor Gov. Jerry Brown made 200 appointments in his last year in office. Of those, more than half were women and 41 percent identified as non-white.
Newsom has appointed former Court of Appeal Justice Martin Jenkins as his judicial appointments secretary and, for the first time in California history, made public the names of the regional advisors who assist in vetting new judges. For more insight on what Newsom is looking for in his judicial picks, see our recent article.
The California Lawyers Association supported the additional judgeships, along with a $2.5 million one-time boost in funding for the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act. The act provides counsel to low-income families facing evictions and child custody disputes as well as those seeking urgent family guardianships or conservatorships.
A Judicial Council study found that the pilot programs created under the act dramatically increased the likelihood of settlement, improved the longevity of court orders and reduced court costs.
“We are pleased that the program received the vital funding it needed to continue offering legal representation to litigants who are most vulnerable,” said CLA Director of Governmental Affairs Saul Bercovitch.
The money for the new judgeships and the civil counsel program were part of $430.1 million in increased funding for California’s judicial branch. The branch’s $4.26 billion budget for 2019-2020 represents 1.5 percent of the general fund.
“This year’s budget is good news for residents who rely on California’s judicial system,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said. “Both Governor Newsom’s initial budget proposal in January and the Legislature’s follow through in its budget process demonstrate a joint commitment to providing equal access to justice. This budget reflects years of advocacy for more trial court judges in the fastest growing parts of our state and will help courts continue initiatives that help break down barriers for all Californians seeking justice.”
Other budget highlights include:
- Nearly $10 million to expand language access in the courts by providing interpreters in civil cases. Nearly 7 million Californians have limited English skills, and more than 200 languages are spoken in the state, according to the Judicial Council.
- Funding for pilot projects – $75 million over two years – related to pretrial decision-making in at least 10 California trial courts. A Judicial Council workgroup has recommended that money bail be replaced by a risk-based assessment and supervision program that determines whether to jail defendants before trial based on their threat to public safety and their likelihood of making a court appearance.
- About $44 million to make progress on technology initiatives such as remote appearances for non-criminal court proceedings, voice-to-text language interpretation services at clerk counters and intelligent chat technology.
- An additional $20 million to help fund legal representation for children and families in the child welfare system, which will be supplemented by $34 million in federal money.