One of the problems of our judicial system has always been the lack of equality when it comes to affording justice. Most of the time the issue arises when a defendant in a criminal proceeding cannot afford an attorney, and although there are many excellent public defenders, the one that he draws might, for want of a more diplomatic way of saying it, have too many items on his plate at once. However, now the great and mighty State of California is showing signs of strains when it comes to being able to afford justice.
Recently, in this column, we reported that the County of Los Angeles started a "furlough" program when it closed its courtrooms throughout the county for one day out of the month except for extraordinary circumstances involving certain arraignments of criminal defendants and restraining orders for abused spouses. Now the budget crisis has grown and the entire statewide system of courts are closing-completely-every month for one day.
One day a month may not seem like a great deal. The truth, however, is that it is a great deal, and it is a serious situation for the legal system in California. One day a month affects thousands of cases and thousands of people. As just one example, think of the people who leave their jobs for several days to serve on a jury. Now, they face the prospect of having one day off during a several day jury trial, which will delay their return to their jobs and the economy by one day, and this will happen every month for the foreseeable future.
All of the employees of the state court system are not paid for that one day off which does save the state millions of dollars. Judges are exempt from being required to have their pay reduced because of a law that forbids that from happening, but most have agreed to voluntarily give up one day a month of pay. What is next? If one day a month does not save enough money will we expand to two days a month? Will it become more difficult for courtrooms to commence trials on time for criminal defendants, and, if so, will cases be in danger of being dismissed by virtue of not starting pursuant to the defendants' rights to a speedy trial? Is the future of justice in California in grave danger?
It could be that the judicial system is simply experiencing what many people in the country are experiencing-difficult economic times which we all hope will be temporary. However, if improvement does not come soon, the danger does exist that the People of the State of California, in their pursuit of justice in connection with trying criminal defendants in a prompt and effective fashion, will be hurt badly by virtue of not being able to afford justice.