Budget Crisis Causes the Closure of California Courts: Will New Mexico Follow Suit?

The Supreme Court of California announced that the Supreme Court of California, the Courts of Appeal and the Superior Courts would be closing on the third Wednesday of each month. The court closures are the result of California‘s ongoing budget crisis.

It is estimated that this move will save the state $94.3 million for the State. The amount of projected cost savings suggests the huge costs of running a Court system on a daily basis. The closures will amount to only 12 days of closure per year, putting the daily costs at $7.86 million. These cutbacks will cause ever greater strain on an already burdened court system.

Though the Court system in New Mexico is a small fraction of the size of California‘s, the costs of the court system is enormous. In addition, the state‘s budget is only a small fraction of the size of California‘s. So in relative terms, New Mexico may be facing an even greater burden.

The New Mexico Courts have already begun throughout the state to cut back on the hours for administrative services such as the clerk‘s offices. The courtrooms have yet to be impacted but it seems that they will at some point.

Yet while the Courts are facing ever more challenging budgets, the practices in the criminal justice system have yet to respond to the looming crisis. Police and prosecutors continue to prosecute DWI/DUI cases that are below the legal limit. Police and prosecutors are regularly bringing cases at .04 to .06 breath alcohol scores, sometimes even below .04. There is a similar policy among some prosecutor‘s offices of relentlessly pursuing domestic violence actions even when there is a total lack of foundation or merit. These practices, in addition to being manifestly unjust, place a huge burden on the Courts and the taxpayers of New Mexico.

Perhaps the upside of the economic downturn will be that the police and prosecutors will be forced to more honestly and fairly evaluate the merits of their cases before burdening the Courts with frivolous criminal proceedings. Perhaps, police will be less enthusiastic about pursuing these cases when overtime pay is capped and there is no financial incentive to pursue these cases. Perhaps prosecutors will be less inclined to pursue these cases as their own budgets begin to shrink. Perhaps the Courts themselves will hold the prosecutors and police more accountable to the taxpayers and be quicker to dismiss meritless actions. We can hope.

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