In a new release posted last week, the Los Angeles Superior Court announced plans for the most significant reduction of services in its history. By June 30, 2012, the Court will reduce its staff by nearly 350 workers, close 56 courtrooms, reduce its use of court reporters and eliminate the Informal Juvenile Traffic Courts. This huge cut will no doubt be felt by the public seeking redress by the local courts, such as the South Bay Court in Torrance.
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.”
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. The Court has managed its share of these cuts by spending down year-end fund balances, freezing wages, furloughing court staff, and eliminating staff positions, 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.”
The $30 million cutback in resources, which will take effect by June 30, 2012, has four components:
First, the Los Angeles Superior 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. The loss of the criminal courtrooms will indeed place a heavier burden on the already overworked Judges and courtroom staff that try criminal matters of all types
Second, on May 15, 2012, the Los Angeles Superior Court will no longer provide court reporters for civil trials. In addition, after June 18, 2012, 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, 2012. “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. These longer lines will undoubtedly leave a bad taste in the mouths of the public visiting the Courts to obtain records and information about access to the Judicial System.
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.” This program took offenses such as minor in possession of alcohol and shoplifting out of the formal Juvenile Delinquency Court, the loss of this program will impact any first time juvenile offender who hoped to get a second chance
In Torrance Court, the most immediate impact to the criminal court calendar is the change of Division P and Criminal Division 6. These courts hear most of the DUI cases and other misdemeanor cases in Torrance and Gardena. It would seem that what was once the work of two Judges and staff will now be handled by one Judge and one set of staff.