"We have a system of fines and fees that have morphed from a system of accountability to a system that raises revenue for essential government services," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in her annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature.
The chief justice says California raises almost $2 billion from tickets, fees, bail and other court penalties. She called for a study of the state’s funding system—and for expanding pre-trial releases, instead of bail.
Cantil-Sakauye often calls for more court funding, but after Governor Jerry Brown proposed an extra $200 million in his most recent budget, the chief justice made only one explicit mention of underfunding.
"We have over 155,000 children and families in the court system, and they need specially-trained attorneys," said Cantil-Sakauye.
Dependency courts, which handle cases involving parental abuse and neglect, can provide attorneys to people who can't afford their own.
But Cantil-Sakauye says on average, each attorney has 225 cases. The state Judicial Council has recommended a caseload of 77.
"That can’t be fair to children, to families, to the attorneys, and to the judges who oversee these matters," the chief justice said.
Judges have called for more dependency court funding for more than a decade.