Tani Cantil-Sakauye made the comments at a news conference Tuesday flanked by more than 30 judges, court administrators, union officials, business representatives and lawmakers, the Los Angeles Times reported ( http://lat.ms/1d6AAUb).
She said the governor's spending plan probably would trigger more courthouse closures and layoffs and increase delays for trials and divorce and custody matters.
Brown has proposed an additional $105 million for the courts in 2014-15, but the increase would still leave the judicial branch in a budget hole, the newspaper reported.
Cantil-Sakauye spelled out the court's needs in a three-year blueprint. The state's trial and appellate courts need an additional $266 million "just to tread water" in the coming fiscal year, $612 million to be fully functional and $1.2 billion over three years to make up for past cuts, according to the chief justice.
"We are rationing justice, and it has become more than a fiscal problem," Cantil-Sakauye said. "It is, in my view, it is now a civil rights problem. ... We know we are denying the protections of an American democracy."
California's fiscal outlook has improved considerably, but now government entities are complaining that Brown's proposed budget doesn't do enough to repair the damage inflicted during the financial crisis.
The courts tapped into local reserves in the past to cushion the loss of state money, and those reserves are now largely depleted, the Times reported.
Years of cutbacks already have forced the closure of 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms, reduced hours at courts throughout the state, and led to increases in court user fees and legal fines, according to the newspaper. A judges' committee reported last year that the cutbacks had created a five-month wait for trials on traffic matters in San Diego and a four-hour wait in lines in San Francisco to pay parking tickets.
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance, said other state services, including K-14 education, suffered even deeper cuts than the courts in recent years.
"We made it a priority to put $105 million more in the budget recognizing that they have increasing employee costs," Palmer said.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com