Distinguished Speaker Series: Hon. Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye – Chief Justice of California

On June 2nd, the California Women’s Law Center hosted a conversation with Hon. Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, the Chief Justice of California, and Betsy Butler, CWLC Interim Executive Director. California’s Chief Justice addressed the limitations and far-reaching consequences of an under-funded court system. These financial challenges profoundly impact access to justice for women and girls in our state.

As a result of this budget crisis, California’s justice system has been forced to close courtrooms and drastically reduce staff. With courtrooms closing all over the state, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye fears that people will not truly have access to justice because it is too far or too expensive to take a case trial. In turn, individuals lacking practical access to the justice system will not pursue trial and endure infringement instead of seeking out legal protection.

The Chief Justice also expressed concern that California’s justice system is unable to introduce new judicial practices until under-funding is resolved. She is a leader in California’s collaborative courts which focus on issues pertaining to veterans and domestic violence. These courts have proven to reduce recidivism and ease reintegration into the community.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s general concern is that fiscal conversations only include the legislative and executive branches. The Chief Justice wants to be a part of budget planning. She believes her voice is necessary to share the rationale behind her monetary requests and what is at stake when the court’s budget is cut.

The Chief Justice claimed $266 million is required for the justice system to continue functioning without having to further cut staff or close more courtrooms. In order to improve the system, however, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakayue argues California’s justice system requires $612 million. California’s population is growing, as is the case load for California’s justice system, but unfortunately, the system does not have the capacity to accommodate such growth. As a result, many critical cases go unheard. Thus, the challenge becomes that much greater for women and girls, who lack a strong political voice, to acquire the justice they rightfully deserve.

To date, California’s justice system has lost 39,000 employees. According to the Chief Justice, the whole system feels this loss. In the past, California’s justice system has dipped into fiscal safety nets in an attempt to delay the repercussions of staff cuts.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakayue shared her vision for the courts: access 3D. Access 3D includes physical, electronic and equal access. In the physical sense, the Chief Justice believes every individual should have access to a safe courtroom in his or her own community. Electronic access will give way to remote access to justice. This will cut costs and make it easier for people to take their first steps pursuing justice. Finally, the Chief Justice hopes for equal access. California is the most diverse state, therefore, it is imperative that each unique citizen has access to justice he or she feels comfortable with.

The Chief Justice also shared some stories from her personal life. She was raised in a minority community by strong women that organized and collaborated to shape their neighborhood. These women inspired her to be vocal and assertive. Despite the fact that she holds a very prestigious position, when asked about being a woman in her field, the Chief Justice admitted that even she still has moments when she thinks to herself “I can’t believe that just happened.” If a woman with such great authority still faces gender-related challenges in the workplace, then it is evident there is still progress to be made.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye continues to negotiate with the governor in the hopes of receiving more funds so that she can work towards making California’s justice system more accessible.

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VIEW: The complete set of photos on our Facebook page.