Hello. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of talking with new judges who are attending the Witkin Judicial College.
The ten-day college has a fine faculty of volunteer judges and is one of the many activities supported by the AOC under the auspices of the Judicial Council. I reviewed with the new judges how the third branch of government in California has evolved over the last 16 years and our current challenges and opportunities. I know it's no surprise to many that our biggest challenge is our budget.
Although our state is climbing out of the recent fiscal crisis, the judicial branch is still in the throes of one. We're dealing with closed courthouses and courtrooms, laid-off or furloughed staff, backlogs and delays in court construction maintenance. We are being forced to limit access, and thus we are not serving the public.
This has been our simple message, and I'm relieved to report that our sister branches of government are beginning to act on it. Thanks to the collaborative work of justices, judges, attorneys, and our justice partners, this fiscal year marks the first time in five years that our budget wasn't cut, and why the judicial branch received an extra 63 million dollars this year.
But we still have a long, long way to go. We are crawling out of a fiscal hole created by a half billion dollars in cumulative cuts. At least now we are moving in the right direction. Our immediate goal is to put the judicial branch on sound fiscal footing. And we need to reinvest in justice. We need that reinvestment to institute what I call "Access 3D," three-dimensional access.
Access should be physical, remote, and equal. Physical access means keeping our courthouse doors open and operating at hours that benefit the public. It means having safe, secure, well-maintained, and cost-effective courthouses that are accessible to those with disabilities. Remote access means increasing our ability to conduct branch business online to file court cases, access case information and records, and to make video appearances where and when appropriate. Equal access means language access. Our branch serves 38 million Californians who speak more than two hundred languages. We must advance language access by providing and endorsing programs that enhance professional standards for interpreters and make language services available for those in need.
Equal access means that courts are available to all—from low- and middle-income litigants representing themselves to businesses urgently needing to resolve disputes. Equal access means adequately staffing our courts so that we have enough judges, bench officers, and court staff to serve the public. Equal access means making judicial branch business more transparent, particularly in the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Equal access means supporting a diverse judicial branch at all levels to benefit the public and to reflect the vast diversity of the state. Equal access means making diverse appointments to the Judicial Council and its advisory committees and task forces to better represent the public.
In the end, equal access relies on public support. That is why I am leading a statewide coalition to promote civic awareness and engagement. The leaders of tomorrow need to understand the importance of having three coequal branches of government as the foundation of our democracy. It will take a better-funded judicial branch to fulfill this vision. But we have to do our part, too. That is to constantly reassess what we do and make adjustments, as necessary. We have made tremendous progress in the last three years.
When I left the Judicial College yesterday, I felt both confident and optimistic that we can meet our challenges because of our stellar judiciary.
Working together, we will achieve this vision of access.