The budget process in California’s third branch of government is collaborative and complex, typically a year long procedure. Analysis and discussions begin with the Trial Court Budget Working Group, a team of 15 superior court judges and 15 court executive officers.
Appellate courts also participate, through the Appellate Court Budget Subcommittee.
The Trial Court Budget Working Group represents the rich diversity of California’s trial courts – large and small, metropolitan and rural. After plenty of input from trial courts throughout the state, the Working Group directs staff from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to draw up budget proposals as instructed.
From there the completed and fully vetted proposals go before the Judicial Council in a public business meeting, usually in August. Public comment is invited. It is here that budget decisions are made and priorities ratified, where Council members safeguard the consistent, impartial, independent, and accessible administration of justice throughout the entire branch.
In September the Judicial Branch presents its budget proposal to the Governor and legislators. Then they go to work on it, negotiating changes. Once they approve and enact the state budget, funding is appropriated to the Judicial Branch.
Then Judicial Council members make decisions on court allocations and provide final approval. The AOC’s role is to distribute the funding to the trial courts, as directed by the Judicial Council.
In fiscal year ‘11/’12 the overall state budget was $129.5 billion. Only 2.4% of that goes to the Judicial Branch.
In terms of the state’s general fund, the Judicial Branch accounts for only 1.6%, a tiny sliver.
The total judicial branch budget is $3.17 billion. Only 4.2% of that funds the Judicial Council and the AOC. 81% of that goes to the trial courts.
In the last 4 years, the judicial branch has endured $653 million in cuts. This year legislators and the governor chopped the court’s operational funds by an unprecedented $350 million; ongoing cuts; and raided another $750 million from the court construction fund.
The Chief Justice of California and the Judicial Council have declared budget restoration their top administrative priority for the year, “I have little doubt that this body, the Judicial Council and the judicial branch is the finest judiciary in the nation and can rise to the challenge and we can and will put in place the foundation for a new era in California.”