Courts in California
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Courts in California include the three courts of California's state court system, four federal district courts, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is based in San Francisco.
The Supreme Court is the state's court of last resort. It has jurisdiction to review parts or entire cases from the Courts of Appeal. In deciding which cases merit review, the California Supreme Court focuses on significant legal issues of statewide importance. It also has jurisdiction in mandamus, certiorari, habeas corpus and prohibition cases.
The Courts of Appeal are the intermediate appellate courts in California. There are six districts and 105 judges serving in them. Most of the cases that come before the Courts of Appeal involve the review of a superior court decision that is being contested by a party to the case.
These are California's trial courts. They conduct all original trials in the state, except in cases where the appellate level courts have original jurisdiction. Up until 1998, most of California's 58 counties had their own county court system. The passage of Proposition 220 in 1998 changed that, allowing the superior and municipal courts in a county to consolidate their operations if a majority of the superior court and municipal court judges in the county agreed to the consolidation. Under the terms of the proposition, if a consolidation was agreed to, the county's municipal courts would be abolished and all municipal court judges and employees would become superior court judges and employees. This consolidation took place in every county by February 2001.
The Judicial Council of California is the policy- and rule-making body for the California court system. Its staff of approximately 800 implement policies and provide court administration services to the trial and appellate courts statewide. The Judicial Council's main office is in San Francisco, with outlying offices in Sacramento and Burbank.
Under the California Constitution, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court chairs the Judicial Council. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye implemented numerous reforms and new initiatives after taking office in January 2011.
Budget woes and court closings
In 2009, the California state court system absorbed a 10 percent budget cut, totaling $414 million, which led to mandatory court closings of one day a month throughout the 59-county superior court system. Since 2008, more than $1 billion has been cut from court budgets, leading to courthouse and courtroom closures, reduced hours and significant case backlogs.
The four federal district courts in California are the United States District Court for the Central District of California, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. In addition, San Francisco is home to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which hears appeals from the following district courts:
As of 2011, prisons in California were overcrowded due to the increased incarceration rate.
In May 2011, the United States Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population. The court concluded that prison overcrowding violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The court then rejected California's bid for more time and leeway.
- Courthouse News Service, "Legislature Votes to Restore $100 Million to California Courts," May 24, 2013
- Courthouse News Service, "No relief for California courts in May budget revise," May 14, 2013
- California Secretary of State, "Official California Voter Guide to Proposition 220," 1998
- California Courts, "Superior Courts," accessed June 11, 2014
- Sacramento Bee, "Tipping the scales of the indefensible," December 12, 2009
- California Courts, "InFocus: Judicial Branch Budget Crisis"
- McClatchy Newspapers, "Supreme Court: California must reduce prison population," May 23, 2011
- Restorative Justice Online, "Governor Jerry Brown: Can he support restorative justice?" Jan 12, 2011