Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, October 4, 2002


Page 1


Superior Court Terminates Eight Bench Officers in Budget Move


By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer


Eight full-time Los Angeles Superior Court referees will be laid off by Nov. 1 to help pare down a $57 million budget deficit, court officials said yesterday.

The move eliminates nearly a quarter of the court’s roster of 34 full-time referees—subordinate judicial officers who wear the black judges’ robes and preside over courtrooms on a variety of preliminary matters and, if the attorneys stipulate, on trials.

Court Public Information Officer Allan Parachini said four bench officers in the Antelope Valley, two in Compton, and one each in East Los Angeles and the Mental Health Court will lose their jobs and could be replaced by commissioners or judges transferred from elsewhere in the court.

The referees to be let go include Ross Amspoker and Ron Taylor in Palmdale, and Robyn Kesler and David Bianchi in Lancaster. Superior Court officials, not speaking for attribution, said the others are Joel Wallenstein and Bruce Toomer in Compton, Robert Clinco in East Los Angeles and Laura Hymowitz in Mental Health. Parachini said late yesterday that he could not confirm those latter four.

Wallenstein and Clinco said yesterday afternoon that they had not been informed of any job cuts affecting them.

“I’ve never received anything from anybody,” Clinco said. “It’s standing currently as an unknown as far as I’m concerned.”

Toomer and Hymowitz could not be reached.

Kesler, who served as a referee in Lancaster since Aug. 1, 2001, said she was notified of her layoff in writing yesterday morning. She formerly was a certified family law specialist with her own practice, she said, but gave it up to serve on the court. She said she missed the chance to renew her certification in September, thinking she would not need it.

“Less than a week later I learned there may be layoffs,” she said, adding:

“I enjoyed what I did here. I think I did a good job, and I would like to come back.”

Deficit Plan

The referee layoffs are one component of a plan to deal with a massive budget deficit, part of which was well known to the court many months ago as it operated courtrooms and paid employees from a reserve fund, and part of which become apparent in its scale only over the summer months as the Legislature grappled with the failing economy and a diminishing state budget.

Court officials are presently engaged in talks designed to identify 15 percent salary cuts in each of 40 departments, to be accomplished by designating 150 non-judicial court employees for layoff.

The court also is negotiating with the Sheriff’s Department to cut $10 million from its contract for bailiffing, lockup and security services with the court.

There also will be 29 courtrooms closed and a total of 26 judicial positions eliminated.

Assistant Presiding Judge-elect William MacLaughlin, chair of the court’s Budget and Personnel Committee, said the eight full-time referees notified yesterday, together with 18 hourly as-needed referees who would no longer be called into service, account for the 26 judicial positions.

MacLaughlin said he did not expect any other full-time bench officers to lose their jobs. But he noted that the number of posts filled by retired bench officers in the assigned judges and assigned commissioners program would be reduced, and that currently assigned judges and commissioners might lose their courtrooms and go back into the pool for future assignments.

Custody Lockup

The court also is considering whether to end custody lockup, and consequently felony and violent misdemeanor prosecutions, at the Hollywood, South Gate and Monrovia courthouses.

Last month, the court laid off 168 probationary, part-time and student workers.

Court employees, including mid- and lower-level management, are now awaiting word on who will be named in the new round of layoffs. In videotaped statements to employees, court Executive Office John Clarke has identified moving target dates for notification.

The most recently named date cited by union representatives was Oct. 15.

By many accounts, the notice delivered yesterday to referees took some court officials and employees by surprise.

Public information representatives reached in the late morning said word of referee layoffs was inaccurate. They and other court officials later acknowledged that some referees were in fact given termination notices.

But by the end of the court day, officials could not confirm which referees, other than the four in the Antelope Valley, were to be let go, in part because it was unclear whether the other four had received their layoff notices.

MacLaughlin said the referees were selected because they filled positions that historically were unfunded.

Before unification, he said, the judicial workload grew faster than the Legislature created positions, and the Superior Court and many municipal courts created additional bench positions from savings in other operational areas in order to deliver the service that was required.

With unification, the Superior Court inherited the positions that had been funded mostly from budget-shifting. It is those positions, MacLaughlin said, that are being eliminated.

“The need and demand is still there,” MacLaughlin said. “The same amount of work will have to still be done. There simply is less money, and because there is less money we cannot afford to keep open courts for which we don’t receive funding.”

He added that the personnel in those courtrooms are not necessarily to be targets for the non-judicial layoffs. Some may move to other courtrooms, he said, but the courtrooms in Lancaster, Palmdale, Compton, East Los Angeles and Mental Health will likely remain open.

Meanwhile, Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash confirmed yesterday that his court will cut back in use of hourly as-needed referees, and that informal juvenile and traffic court in Glendale would close and move to Pasadena, while a satellite in Newhall would close and move back to San Fernando.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company