California Budget Cuts and the Integrity of the Judicial System

A second round of budgets cuts hit San Diego County Courts late last year.  A few months have passed, and the dust has begun to settle. The effects of the budget cuts have become less anecdotal and increasingly more tangible. Critics of the budget cuts projected that the burden would fall on low income litigants and it appears that they were right.

During the first round of budget cuts, San Diego County lost approximately 41 court reporters from a staff of 122.  Spokeswoman for the San Diego Superior Court, Karen Dalton, projected an annual savings of $6 million stemming from the cutting back of court reporters.  There are many who believe that the savings are far outweighed by the apparent unintended consequences.  Early Langley, President of the California Court Reporters Association, warns that the loss of court reporters will create a two-tier legal system.  She states, “[t]he integrity of the judicial process is at stake here… with the average person no longer having access to equal justice.”

The loss of Court Reporters is primarily felt in family law proceedings. The average cost to hire a court reporter in San Diego County will be upwards of $600. If you chose not to bring your own court reporter, you will be lacking a certified court record.  Without a record you will have very limited avenues to appeal. Which is where the two- tier system begins to emerge.  Access to thorough court record is now contingent on your ability to pay for a court reporter to attend your hearing.

Since 2012, San Diego County Courts have experienced more than $30 million in cuts and has reduced its workforce by nearly 20%.   In late 2017, San Diego Courts refused to provide court reporters in family law matters for Domestic Violence Restraining Order hearings or for Request for Order hearings of 40 minutes or less.  Executive Officer Michael Roddy states that when considering the massive budget cuts “you have to find ways to continue to provide services with fewer people.” Presiding Judge Jeffrey B. Barton admits that “these changes impact some of the most vulnerable people we serve…”

People’s Legal Services was created and operates with the goal of bridging the gap of this ever-evolving two-tier system. With our sliding scale representation, experienced attorneys, and community partners, we hope to provide equal access to justice in an environment where our politicians and law makers may fall short. You can also rest assured that we are working to address the issue of court reporters in the courtroom by and through our community network. Stay tuned for updates on this important issue.

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