State Judges Spar Over Court Spending

Closing courts once a month might save money, but an alliance of more than 200 rebellious California judges said it is really costing citizens justice.

"We've closed the court and denied the public, the taxpayers, access to the courts," said Vista Judge Dan Goldstein. "We can't tell a domestic violence victim on one Wednesday a month when she shows up for a restraining order, 'Sorry, we're closed for business.'"

However, Justice Richard Huffman said justice is not being delayed or denied.

Huffman is one of the 15 judges managing the nearly $3.5 billion given to California's justice system this year.

"If the state is in trouble, it trickles right down to you?" said Blacher.

"Oh, absolutely," said Huffman.

The fight apparently begins with taxpayer money.

"There are indeed questions about how money is being spent," said Goldstein.

Goldstein and other alliance judges questioned two projects in particular. The first being money spent to renovate courthouses, for the most part in Northern California and rural areas. It is a decision Huffman defended.

"We're not building palaces for empty courtrooms. We're trying to replace things that have been ignored by local governments for decades," said Huffman.

Courthouses like San Diego's now have to close once a month because there is not enough money to keep them.

"It's not just a matter of keeping 'the courts open' ... it's keeping safe courts open," said Huffman.

Goldstein and his group also question the nearly $2 billion computer project authorized by Huffman and his colleagues. It is a project said to be over-budget and broken.

"What about the allegations that this computer system is simply a dud?" asked Blacher.

"That's just nonsense. It's nonsense by people who don't use the system," said Huffman.

The system is not being used, detractors said, because it doesn't work. The system, called the Case Management System, is supposed to take all files being sorted by hand and put them in a computer. The idea is to provide every court in the state with access to every case in the state.

Goldstein said, "We are still responsible for the way money is spent whether the economy is rolling along or we have a terrible recession."

Goldstein also questioned why money is being spent on computers and courthouses at a time when courthouse doors can't be kept open.

"The most important thing the judicial branch can do is stay open for the public," said Goldstein.

"This is not the first time that that's happened, in case somebody has just discovered this revolutionary problem," said Huffman.

The same issue occurred during the last two recessions, and even California's chief justice had something to say on the issue.

"He accused your group of 'trying to dismantle the justice system,'" said Blacher.

"Yeah, I heard that," said Goldstein.

"How do you respond to that?" asked Blacher.

"Actually, we're trying to get the justice system to function," said Goldstein.

The more than 200 rebel judges are pushing a bill that would allow a group of superior court judges to monitor state judicial spending.