A Furlough Is Not A Vacation
The courts are implementing furloughs, which could cause problems for the public.
In the face of the financial crisis affecting California the Los Angeles Superior Court has taken measures to lessen its impact on the budget.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Superior Court began the first of its series of mandatory closures, which will be in effect the third Wednesday of every month.
“We face a serious crisis with immediate impacts that can be blunted, but not avoided,” said Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy. “We learned from our experiences of 2002 through 2004. Over the intervening years, we have accumulated modest reserves that will enable us to soften the pain of these cuts for at least the first year of the new crisis. Unfortunately, we anticipate this difficult budget environment will remain with us for four years.”
The Court faces an estimated budget shortfall of nearly $90 million for the coming fiscal year, nearly double the amount in the most recent budget crisis that erupted in 2002, which ultimately resulted in closure of 29 courtrooms and layoffs of more than 150 employees.
“The public must realize that the state’s fiscal situation means we cannot actually solve the budget crisis we face,” said John A. Clarke, the Court’s executive officer/clerk. “The best we can do is to minimize the pain these cuts will inflict. No one, most of all the Court, is happy about this.”
Because nearly half of the Court’s funding is for specific statutory purposes, discretion in how and where to make cuts is very limited. Nearly 86 percent of the Court budget, which is about $900 million this year, is for personnel.
If the current situation remains unchanged, by the end of fiscal year 2012-13, as many as 1,300 jobs, or 25 percent of the workforce, could be eliminated. Should that occur, entire courthouses would have to be closed and Court services massively scaled back.
McCoy emphasized, however, that no specific decisions about facility closures have been made, either in terms of timing or when such shutdowns might occur.
Such drastic steps are unlikely to become necessary in fiscal year 2009-10, but may have to be addressed as soon as 2010-11 or early in the following fiscal year.
Although the Court anticipates beginning the 2009-2010 fiscal year with as much as $90 million in reserves, the overall fiscal plan must spread use of this money over an expected four-year crisis period.
Depleting the surplus quickly might avert some immediate effects of the crisis, but future years would see even more dire cuts.
The bulk of the reserve balance will, however, be utilized in the first two years in an effort to limit adverse impacts on the court system beyond those presently contemplated and, at the end of two years, leaving the court with a small annual balance and a far more adverse situation likely ahead.
“We know that reducing and eliminating court services will cause all of our stakeholders, from customers with traffic tickets to lawyers with court dates, great inconvenience. Our objective is to give these constituencies as much time as possible to prepare for the furlough program.”
State court leaders are also considering one-day-per-month furloughs and other steps to respond to the financial crisis.
McCoy noted that the Los Angeles Superior Court plan is being implemented even though the Judicial Council of California has not yet announced any statewide court closure or furlough plan.
“We are the largest and most complex court system in the United States,” McCoy said. “You cannot suddenly bring a system like ours to a halt. This must be orderly and planned and that takes time.”
The Los Angeles Superior Court is the nation’s largest trial court system. It operates nearly 600 courtrooms in 50 different courtroom locations throughout the county.
On the furlough days, a limited number of courtrooms will be operational, and clerks’ offices will be open, however the variety of services available on furlough days will be limited.
On the furlough days, the following services should be available at all courthouses:
· Requests for domestic violence, elder abuse or civil harassment restraining orders
involving stalking and/or threats of violence.
· Papers may be filed in the Clerk’s Office by leaving them in a secure drop box. Any
filed papers left in a drop box by 4:30 p.m. on July 15 will be considered filed on
July 15th. No review of filings will be conducted. No copies will be made by the
clerk’s office staff.
· Payments of fines and fees will be accepted through secured drop boxes only. No
receipts will be given on July 15 for payment of fines or fees.
· People whose traffic citations list July 15 as the date to report to court can receive a
continuance of that matter at the courthouse to which the person was ordered to
· Arraignments of defendants who are in custody.
· Surrender of defendants with outstanding bench warrants.
· Probable cause determinations.
· Certain Mental Health Court hearings.
· Detention hearings in both juvenile delinquency and juvenile dependency.
The Los Angeles Superior Court also offers a host of services online, to see those services and more information about the furloughs click here.