Monica Rodriquez, Staff Writer
Created: 05/27/2012 02:05:58 PM PDT

Numerous state and local government agencies are preparing for the possibility of profound budget cuts, and California’s court system is no different.

Courts up and down the state are preparing for $544 million in cuts from the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to the Judicial Council of California, the policy-making body of the California courts.

Such a hit follows four years of other cuts in which California’s courts have lost about $650 million.

“It’s not good,” said Stephen Nash, court executive officer for San Bernardino County Superior Court.

It’s estimated that of the about $544million in cuts the governor is proposing, about $300 million would come from courts’ reserves and the reminder would come from delaying court construction projects, Nash said.

Despite that, San Bernardino County Superior Court could still face a budget shortfall of about $10.3 million for the coming fiscal year and $23 million to $24 million for 2013-2014, he said.

Officials at Los Angeles County Superior Court were still calculating how the cuts might affect it, said spokeswoman Mary Hearn.

However, prior to Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision, the forecast called for L.A. County’s courts to lose $125 million if a series of temporary tax measures going before voters in November are defeated, she said.

Bad budget-related news seems to come in waves, Hearn said, adding that “the numbers keep changing in the wrong direction with each day and new bits of information.”

The loss of reserves is huge because it’s money many courts have set aside for unforeseen circumstances after prudent budgeting, said Nash.

Most courts have reserve funds, and in many cases those dollars have been used to offset the loss of state funding.

The governor’s proposal calls for deducting any reserves courts may have from their funding allocation for the coming fiscal year, said Philip Carrizosa, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, which implements the Judicial Council’s policies.

Such a move would evaporate the courts’ reserves.

During the 2011-2012 fiscal year ending June 30, San Bernardino County’s courts used about $9million of its reserves to offset state cuts and lower local revenue, said Nash.

Projections of $27 million to $28 million in reserves at the end of the current fiscal year are now in jeopardy, he said.

San Bernardino County’s courts had a 2011-2012 fiscal year budget of about $111.3 million, Nash said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court, which had a 2011-2012 budget of $768 million, used $21 million in reserves to offset funding losses, Hearn said.

By June 30, officials at L.A. County’s courts expect to have about $80 million in reserves.

The plan was to stretch out those reserves to continue covering the loss of funding during the next three years, Hearn said.

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