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Lawyers are beginning to complain about California’s cuts to the court system, one of “the hardest hit arms of government during the recession” with revenue “slashed by $1.1 billion over the last five years – an agonizing 30 percent cut since 2007” according to Brian Kabateck, president of Consumer Attorneys of California. As a result fees are up but “even basic operations are grinding to a halt,” with the most vulnerable suffering the most. That invites a look at the dynamic in play here.
Few would dispute that the state should operate the justice system, keystoned by the courts, to protect citizens’ rights of due process. Last year California’s tax-hiking governor Jerry Brown targeted that system for draconian budget cuts. That drew fire from, among others, the state’s chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a woman not known for frivolous complaints. Plans for new courthouses were shelved as existing ones shut down, including seven in Fresno County. To put that in perspective, consider what the state should have eliminated but left in place while slashing the vital justice system.
California maintains funding for a bullet train boondoggle whose costs could approach $100 billion. Despite dubious utility, the state leaves intact scores of boards and commissions. The Golden State also continues to deploy regulatory zealots such as the California Coastal Commission (CCC), an unelected body that trumps the elected governments of 15 counties and scores of municipalities on development issues, imposing draconian regulations and riding roughshod over individual rights. On the other hand, the CCC is also corrupt. Commissioner Mark Nathanson served prison time for extorting bribes from Hollywood celebrities and others seeking building permits.
In the ruling-class calculus, better to preserve a corrupt, redundant bureaucracy that expands government and violates individual rights while cutting severely the courts, which guard individual rights and can serve as check on government power. Look for this dynamic to catch on with other state governments and of course in Washington, always looking out for number one. In the view from the top, taxpayers aren’t even number two.