We have previously discussed the lack of priority in this country as Congress has spent trillions on wars and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan while our most basic state and federal public programs and services are cut. Indeed, we spend billions on increasingly hostile countries like Pakistan or affluent countries like Israel while our educational system and infrastructure collapses. There is no greater example of that lack of priority than the decline of our court systems which are woefully underfunded and facing a growing crisis in dealing with civil and criminal cases. I often speak to judges and they all complain that they are overwhelmed and unable to meet the most basic demands of the legal system. In California, one court had to resort of a garage sale while another is imposing a $1 a page charge for people to get copies of needed court records. Our legal system is one of the most basic governmental functions — the very definition of a nation committed to the rule of law. However, California alone shows how dire the situation has become.
California has closed more than 50 courthouses and eliminated 3,900 full-time positions. The court estimates that it is short $266 million for minimal operations and $612 million to be fully functional. It also says that it would need $1.2 billion over three years to return services from past cuts.
The wait times for hearings is growing and the state is beginning to resemble India where people simply have little hope of a ruling on disputes — resulting in their avoidance of the courts or abandonment of cases. The Kings County Superior Court was faced with staff cuts and inadequate budgets and had to hold an actual garage sale to raise money.
The state is about to announce a new round of court closings to save money — increasing the barrier for judicial review and case resolution. Lines now stretch out the door and courts report increasing tension and even violence as people lose their tempers in waiting for hours.
In the meantime, Alameda County courts are now going to charge $1 per page to simply download documents — creating a financial barrier for many seeking to address legal issues. This is consistent with the increased use of toll roads and taxes for highways. What was once viewed as a basic function of the government (supported by general taxes) is now being treated as a privilege with a surcharge.
The federal system charges for PACER documents online, which I have always found objectionable as a court access issue, but they only charge 10 cents a page. With a cap of $3. The Alameda courts would cap it at $40.
I remain mystified by the short-sightedness of our budget decisions. Cutting educational, judicial, and other basic programs have collateral impacts and displaced costs that are simply ignored. The long-term impacts are particularly worrisome as we produce less competitive students for the new job market, reduce the availability of the courts for conflict resolution, and make add delays in transportation and other basic services. We are de-evolving as country as we spend wildly on foreign wars and aid while reducing our own level of public support and investment.
Source: LA Times