The court reforms of recent years rival those of the Progressive era and will exceed them in the benefits they provide to the public. Legislation in 1997 that allowed for statewide funding of the trial courts addressed historic inequities in the quality of justice dispensed among California's 58 counties. In 1998, California voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution to permit the unification of the 220 Superior and Municipal courts into 58 trial courts -- one in each county. Unification has allowed greater flexibility in the use of judicial and staff resources, eliminated duplicative services and led to the creation of additional services for the public, such as collaborative justice courts, domestic violence courts, drug courts and complex litigation courts. Finally, the Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002 called for the transfer of responsibility for court facilities from the counties to the state. This allowed the judicial branch for the first time to assume responsibility for the buildings in which judges and court staff work and the public is served, and to do so economically and effectively. To date, 503 (more than 90%) of our court structures have been transferred to the state's ownership under judicial branch management.
These historic changes and the growing responsibilities of the council have been a means to an end. They have strengthened the judiciary as a coequal and independent branch of government and secured the system of checks and balances essential to a robust democracy. They have addressed budget inequities among trial courts around the state. They have improved our branch's accountability to our sister branches of government for the financial appropriations provided to the courts. And ultimately they have enhanced equal access to justice and provided a greater degree of accountability.