Top jurist defends monthly closures of state courts


 — The top jurist in California said yesterday that the state of the court system is “challenging” as a result of the fiscal crisis and called on judges and lawyers to work together to continue to reach solutions.

In a speech to a joint meeting of the State Bar of California and the California Judges Association, Chief Justice Ronald M. George also countered complaints from some judges around the state about court closures and the growth in the administrative agency that runs the sprawling system.

His remarks came during the annual meeting of the State Bar this weekend, just days before the first of monthly scheduled closings of state courts Wednesday.

The closures, which will continue on the third Wednesday of each month through June, mark the first time the entire branch is being shuttered. George said the decision by the state Judicial Council to do so was not an easy one.

He said that after months of examining other alternatives, the council determined that closing courts was “the only rational option available to us to adequately address budget realities” the court system faced.

Some trial court judges have complained that there was not enough discussion about the closures and that cuts to other court programs were not adequately weighed.

George rebutted critics who say the Administrative Office of the Courts, the staff agency for the judiciary, has grown too fast and soaks up money.

He said the agency, which has grown from 268 employees in 1998 to 887, consumes just 5 percent of the judiciary budget. He said the growth has come since the state took over court management from individual counties.