At least one criminal courtroom in the San Fernando Superior Court will close as part of a sweeping response to budget cuts announced today.
Sixteen courtrooms of the 580 currently serving Los Angeles County will close April 1 and another 50 are expected to close in September. Nine civil, two criminal, two small claims, one misdemeanor and one family court, most of them in the downtown area, were slated for closure.
The closures were accompanied by the layoff of 329 court workers, ranging from entry level clerks to secretaries, computer system workers and supervisors, court reporters and child advocacy specialists.
Another wave of layoffs is expected in September, which could bring the total of former court workers to 500. The layoffs are being determined by seniority and union officials are working with the county. Hardest hit were Court Services Assistant III positions; 1,183 were eliminated. More than 700 judicial assistants were let go and 243 interpreter positions were deleted.
"Our court's deficit is $79.3 million in fiscal year 2009-2010 and we have few means of achieving substantial savings other than staff reductions," said Presiding Judge Charles W. "Tim" McCoy, Jr.
"We have explored every financial scenario before taking this action, but more than 80 percent of our budget goes to salaries and benefits, which forces today's drastic measures," he added.
McCoy said that with annual budget deficits expected to be as high as $140 million over the next four years, up to 1,800 staff positions may be eliminated.
Along with the San Fernando closure, courtrooms at the Stanley Mosk, Clara Shortridge Foltz, Malibu, Hollywood, Santa Monica, West Lost Angeles and Central Civil West courthouses will close April 1. The courtrooms being taken out of service include those handling criminal, family law, general civil, limited civil, complex litigation and small claims caseloads.
Additionally, many programs administered by the Superior Court have been cut back or eliminated:
- Operator service will be eliminated immediately at the Traffic Telephone Call Center. Automated functions such as fine payments and extension requests will continue but assistance from court personnel will be available only when people visit a traffic court location or call their local traffic court office. Longer lines and extended waits are expected with the reduction in personnel.
- Traffic court sessions will be reduced from twice to once a month at the Metropolitan Courthouse.
- Staff reductions at the Archives Records Center will increase waiting and processing times for files and case reproduction.
- The fifth floor clerk's office at the Clara Foltz Criminal Justice Center (also known as the Criminal Courts building) will be closed. Cashier functions, criminal background checks, criminal case file requests and certification will only be available at the second floor clerk's office.
- Employer, or "bulk" criminal name searches will no longer be available at the Criminal Courts Building; they will be performed at courthouses handling criminal cases but will be processed along with all other clerical requests, delaying service response time.
- Family law courts will see a delay in scheduling and completion of mediation appointments, which are legally mandated in divorce cases involving children.
- The court will no longer fund or provide supervising personnel to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which works on behalf of abused, neglected and abandoned children involved in dependency court matters.