Court Funding Crisis Will Affect California Citizen’s Access to Justice
With waiting times for trials measured in years private dispute judges and arbitration will become more attractive to litigants.
The Courts Are Broke.
The old saying “justice delayed is justice denied” is true and the cuts in court funding will affect divorce, child custody, child support, personal injury, contract disputes, and employment law claims the most. Los Angeles and San Francisco and the other large counties are the ones that are hardest hit. The Judicial Council, the court’s governing body, which consists primarily of judges and court officials appointed by the chief justice, approved cuts of $350 million from a statewide court budget of $1.5 billion. The cuts stem from decisions by the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to raid court construction funds and chop the court’s operational funds to close the state budget deficit. The courts have seen more than a 30% reduction in state general funds over the last three years. LA sawed off $70 million dollars by freezing wages and laying off employees.
Now the courthouses in Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Malibu, Avalon, Whittier, Pomona, and San Pedro will be shut down over the next eight months. California’s rising population and the lack of funding in the state budget for the judiciary pose headaches for people heading to court. If you are a party to a divorce or a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil case, you are going to wait for justice. Some years ago, California Legislature passed a law called the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act which is codified at Government Code Section 68600. The purpose of this law is to reduce the time it takes a litigant to get to trial. Things are not going according to plan. In Sacramento litigants wait an average of 18 months before going to trial. 19.4 percent of pending civil cases in Fresno were filed before 2001. Each direct calendar judge in San Bernardino County has 875 cases pending trial or other hearings. Riverside County has twice suspended all trials in civil cases on several occasions in order to deal with the massive load of criminal cases.
“It’s devastating to the court system, and it’s going to be a sea change in how we do our business,” said Lee Smalley Edmon, presiding judge of the L.A. County Superior Court. “Unfortunately, there are going to be longer lines in each of our courthouses and great delays throughout the system.”
Why Should You Care The Courts That The Courts Have No Funding?
Divorce, traffic tickets, civil lawsuits all face monstrous delays in the coming years. Imagine being in the middle of a marital dissolution proceeding that has been going on for six months and being told that even though you’re ready for trial the earliest available date is 10 months away? Consider having to wait up to five years for your day in court on a civil case such as a lawsuit against the contractor that made a hash of your bathroom remodel or a personal injury suit?
In the context of divorce and child custody and support issues, the best approach is to attempt to resolve the property division and custody/support issues without fighting and then use attorneys to present the agreement to the courts as a mutually agreed upon stipulated judgment of dissolution. Obviously, that is not always possible, so it’s important to have a divorce lawyer familiar with the judges where your case is located. The reason is some family law judges move things along faster than others despite the budget woes, and an attorney familiar with the court will know the history of your judge.
What Can You Do?
In some instances alternative dispute resolution, “ADR,” may be available and it may speed up the resolution of your dispute. Alternative dispute resolution is discussed in depth in another article. Essentially, there are two types of ADR-mediation and arbitration. In mediation, you and the other party meet with a professional neutral, a mediator. The mediator cannot ‘determine’ the case and they cannot make rulings like a judge. The mediator will facilitate a discussion between the parties in an attempt to resolve the dispute. A good mediator can show the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ respective positions concerning the dispute, and often the mediator’s input can help the parties settle the matter.
The second type of ADR is arbitration. Arbitration is similar to a trial. However, in arbitration there is no jury. One or more arbitrators will decide the case. Consider these three important points concerning private arbitration:
- Most arbitrators engage in arbitration for profit. The fees for the arbitration administration and the arbitrator may be considerable, much more than the cost to file a lawsuit in court. (In certain types of cases one party does not have to pay arbitration fees, consult an attorney about your particular matter to determine if this is true in your suit.)
- If you lose in arbitration you may not be able to appeal your case. A decision in state or federal court may be challenged in the appellate courts.
- The final point is the most important. Believe it or not, private arbitrators in California are under no legal obligation to decide a case according to the law! This logic defying fact is little known to people unfamiliar with ADR.
For these reasons, a person should proceed cautiously when deciding whether private arbitration is appropriate. If you don’t want to arbitrate is there anything you can do to speed up your lawsuit? One thing a prudent litigant can do is to file his or her lawsuit sooner rather than later. Don’t wait as long as you can based on the statute of limitations in your matter. Also, determine as early as you can if a settlement or resolution can be reached without filing suit. If you have to file suit, do it quickly and then…be patient.
Call us for a free consultation. Beverly Hills Business Attorney Galen Gentry can help minimize lawsuit exposure and effectively litigate disputes when you have been wronged. With 21 years of experience and the highest rating for legal skills and ethical conduct from avvo.com and martindale.com, Galen can work with you to avoid costly legal problems through proper planning. Call 800 486 6814 for a free, no obligation consultation. Serving clients in Southern California including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood, The San Fernando Valley, Glendale, Pasadena, Ventura County, Orange County and Long Beach.