By David Siders
Published: Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2012 – 9:40 am

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has feuded openly for months with state lawmakers and dissident judges over a bid to weaken her administrative power, appealed to the Legislature on Monday to spare the judiciary from further budget cuts.

In her first State of the Judiciary address, Cantil-Sakauye avoided controversy, thanking lawmakers and others for their “positive, constructive, honest dialogue about our branch.”

Only weeks ago, she had suggested they were on the verge of violating the separation of powers between the Legislature and the courts.

On Monday, she turned her attention to broader concerns, warning that courtroom closures and other impacts imperil justice.

After four years of budget reductions, she said, the judiciary now has “closed” signs on courtrooms and clerks offices in 24 counties.

“We are beginning to see the strains that we think are unbearable for us,” she told reporters. “It really is becoming a crisis for us, and it’s something that we need to shine the light on.”

Last month, in a speech to the state’s presiding judges, Cantil-Sakauye said she was “greatly dismayed” by “meritless, false claims” made during the Assembly’s floor debate of legislation to weaken the state Judicial Council, which she controls, shifting more authority for local spending decisions to trial courts.

Cantil-Sakauye’s campaign against the bill, by Democratic Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Whittier, was aggressive and unusually public, including meetings with newspaper editorial boards.

“I don’t ever remember anything like it,” former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte said. “On the other hand, I don’t remember a bill that strips the Administrative Office of the Courts of the type of authority that the Calderon bill does.”

Brulte said previous chief justices lobbied against budget cuts, but that, “It was much more of a private campaign.”

By Monday, Cantil-Sakauye appeared to have prevailed. Though the Assembly passed Calderon’s bill, it is stalled in the Senate. There is no plan for a hearing.

Cantil-Sakauye had planned to give a State of the Judiciary speech last year – her first – but canceled because of ongoing budget negotiations at the Capitol.

Her address on Monday was widely praised.

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