SANTA ROSA – Funding for law libraries is on serious decline throughout California.
Law libraries in the state of California are facing critical funding problems as the majority of their funding comes from a share of the money collected by each county’s lawsuit filings. This funding procedure was created under an 1891 California state law and has recently seen the number of lawsuits filed each year reduced. In addition, more and more people are applying for fee waivers that eliminated the courts costs based on person’s inability to pay.
The Sonoma County Public Law Library is feel the strain, canceling several law publications and even laying off employees.
“We’ve cut over the past few years over $135,000 worth of legal materials that we can’t afford,” Kimberly C. Tucker, director at the Sonoma County Law Library, told the Northern California Record. "We’ve cut staff in order to maintain expenditures. Pretty much – I shouldn’t be cutting anymore.”
According to Tucker, the majority of patrons that use the law library are not attorneys but regular people who are facing a legal issue and looking to get educated to represent themselves in court.
“Most of our patrons, about 60-65 percent, are self-represented litigants. They’re not attorneys. They’re not judges. They’re people that cannot afford an attorney so I think it’s very important that we stay open.”
With lawsuit filings going down in the state, law libraries are fighting for funding. Sonoma County Public Law Library is no different.
“The filings have gone down statewide,” said Tucker. “At the same time, fee waivers are going up for people that cannot afford the filing fee. When somebody comes in here, more than likely they have filed a fee waiver so they don’t even have to pay our fee. They don’t have to pay the court fees either.”
Like most law libraries in the state, Sonoma County is doing whatever it can to raise the additional funding it needs. Recently, it held an anniversary party as part of a fundraiser for the law library.
“We had an anniversary party and we had a fundraising deal that we were trying to raise $125,000,” said Tucker. “We’ve raised $20,000 and that’s included with everything from the fundraiser.”
Beyond the anniversary party, Sonoma Country Public Law Library has become a Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) provider through the California State Bar so it can hold MCLE events at the law library. It offers a membership program and it has asked for county assistance, which to date, it has not received.
“We’ve been trying everything,” said Tucker. “I don’t know what else there is to do.”
While it remains to be seen what the outcome for the law libraries in California will be, but without proper funding their operation is suffering. Tucker speculated on the impact that closing the law libraries would have on the citizens of California.
“I think the general public won’t have access to justice. (To) those that cannot afford an attorney, that’s very serious,” said Tucker.