UPDATED: LA Superior Court to Close 56 Courtrooms, Reduce Staff By Hundreds
UPDATED: Tuesday, 5:09 pm.
Calling it the “most significant reduction of services in its history” the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Courts announced the June 30 closure of 56 courtrooms and the reduction of 350 workers.
One courtroom, Dept. 4, will be closed at the Santa Clarita Courthouse.
The courts will also reduce its use of court reporters and eliminate the Informal Juvenile Traffic Courts all in response to a $30 million budget deficit.
According to Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon, “Staffing reductions due to budget cuts over the past 10 years have forced our court to reduce staffing by 24%, while case filings continue to increase. This has created incredible pressures on our court to keep up with our work. We cannot endure these pressures for much longer.”
It is unknown if the Santa Clarita Courthouse is one of those on the closure list. Court officials did not respond to inquiries by deadline.
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According to court officials, in the current year, additional staffing reductions are required to deal with the fact that the state’s budget crisis has resulted in a reduction to the California judicial branch of $652 million. They say they’ve managed their share of the cuts by spending down year-end fund balances, freezing wages, furloughing court staff, and eliminating staff positions, thereby achieving $70 million in ongoing savings as of last fiscal year.
“This year, the state cuts are forcing us to reduce our spending by an additional $30 million – on top of the $70 million in reductions we have already made,” notes Edmon. “There will be as many as 350 dedicated, skilled court workers who will no longer be serving the residents of Los Angeles County. When we lose those people, we will no longer be able to shield the core work of the court – the courtroom – from the budget crisis.”
Court officials say the $30 million reduction plan has four components:
First, the court is closing 56 courtrooms, a move made necessary by the depth and breadth of the reductions. The courtrooms being impacted include 24 civil, 24 criminal, 3 family, 1 probate, and 4 juvenile delinquency courts. The caseloads of those courtrooms are being distributed among the remaining courtrooms. Judicial officers whose courtrooms are impacted will be reassigned to fill vacancies, to share staff or to handle settlement conferences to resolve cases without trials.
Second, on May 15, the Los Angeles Superior Court will no longer provide court reporters for civil trials. In addition, after June 18, court reporters will be available for civil law-and-motion matters on a limited basis. (No changes are being made to the provision of court reporters in criminal, family, probate, delinquency or dependency matters.)
Third, the court is again making significant reductions to its non-courtroom staff. Having made 329 layoffs and lost another 229 court staff through attrition over the past two years, the court anticipates making more than 100 additional non-courtroom staff reductions by June 30.
“Our judges and staff have shown incredible dedication and commitment in keeping the court running during these past two years. But these new reductions will not allow it to be business as usual. There will be longer lines at clerk’s windows across the county and slower responses to the public’s needs across the court,” said Edmon.
Fourth, the Court will eliminate its Informal Juvenile Traffic Court program (IJTC). IJTC is an innovative program in which minors who commit low-level offenses are held to account for their actions by the court and by their parents – but outside of the traditional delinquency system.
“These courts have allowed us to address tens of thousands of offenses in a more appropriate forum than delinquency court,” said Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley. “We are losing a crucial element of the juvenile justice system to lack of funding.”
According to court officials no cases are being dismissed because of these actions.