Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, February 26, 2003


Page 1


San Pedro, Other Courthouses to Give Up Criminal Cases


By ROBERT GREENE, Associate Editor


The San Pedro Courthouse will lose its criminal caseload by mid-April and several other courthouses could soon follow suit, Los Angeles Superior Court officials said yesterday.

Court spokesman Allan Parachini said the court expected to save $612,000 in security costs annually from the closure of the San Pedro lockup and the transfer of criminal caseloads to Long Beach. The court hopes to realize a total of $1.5 million in savings with additional case transfers from up to five other courthouses to be announced next week, he said.

Parachini described the latest move as part of a continuing review that culminated in the fall closure of lockups in the Hollywood, South Gate and Monrovia courthouses.

“The transfer [from San Pedro] is not the start of a new round of cuts,” Parachini said, “but the belated final portion of the process that began last year.”

San Pedro very nearly was part of the first round of lockup closures last year, and court officials had considered shutting the courthouse altogether.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes San Pedro, said she had been fighting hard to keep the courthouse open and was pleased with a solution that she said her office and area business leaders were able to reach with the court.

“This new arrangement, of just having civil trials in the courthouse, will actually bring more jurors to San Pedro,” Hahn said, noting that those people will be a boost to local restaurants and businesses.

Hahn said her remaining concern was the fact that Los Angeles police officers, most of them from the nearby Harbor Division, would now have to leave the city and hang around the Long Beach Courthouse to be on call to testify.

“As you know we already have very thin ranks out there,” Hahn said. “But we have had sort of an initial commitment from the county that if at all possible they will try to work out a convenient schedule.”

Hahn added that the court will set up workspace in Long Beach for LAPD officers and City Attorney’s Office lawyers and staff who must be there for criminal matters.

Judge James Pierce and Commissioner Douglas Haigh will move with their criminal caseloads from San Pedro to Long Beach. Judge Peter Mirich will remain in San Pedro but will hear limited civil cases rather than criminal matters.

Judges Judith Vander Lans and Tracy Moreno will move from Long Beach to San Pedro.

The Long Beach Courthouse at 415 W. Ocean Blvd. is the headquarters for the Superior Court’s South District and is far larger than the San Pedro facility at 505 S. Centre St., or the one-judge Beacon Street court or the Avalon court, which also are part of the district.

The closure of the San Pedro lockup and the promise of similar moves in other courthouses comes as the court waits for word from Sacramento on the scope of a budget shortfall that could require an unprecedented level of staff and service cuts.

Earlier this month, officials drew up discussion plans for cuts from the court’s $600 million budget in amounts of 3 percent, 6 percent and 9 percent, and those plans are expected to be discussed at a Judicial Council meeting Friday.

But Parachini said the court has made no firm plans yet because the Legislature has not acted, meaning the true dimensions of the shortfall are speculative.

The Sheriff’s Department is the exclusive provider of security to Los Angeles Superior Court facilities, and the closure of the lockups and cuts in the court’s security budget come directly out of the sheriff’s budget. Almost $10 million was cut from the sheriff’s $105 million court contract for security, weapons screening, bailiffs, lockup guards and related services last year.

Gov. Gray Davis last month proposed a budget that would slash state spending on courts by more than $150 million from the current and next fiscal year. Part of the package was a transfer of responsibility for court security t the counties and a proposal for new legislation permitting competitive bidding among state, county and municipal agencies for court security contracts.

At a weekly meeting yesterday among court administrators and representatives of employee groups, union leaders proposed reducing court management and administration salaries to their levels before the Superior and municipal courts unified in 2000. Unification was accompanied by raises for many court officials whose duties expanded with the increase in court size.

Also recommended was the elimination of Flex and Mega-Flex benefit plans enjoyed by some court employees, an end to payment of employee and judicial officer professional association fees, reduction in management and administrative personnel to reduce what union officials say are duplicate positions resulting from unification, and abandoning what union leaders said was the court’s plan to replace desktop computers every three years.

Additional suggestions were boosting collections, implementing a traffic citation amnesty, terminating 30 new case management system project employees, reducing a “Parents and Children Together” program scrutinizing equipment reimbursement and purchases, and suspending a judicial assistant training office until training resumes.

The union recommendations came as a response to court management plans, which employee representatives said included layoffs, “early separation,” pay or work furloughs, borrowing from trust accounts, courtroom consolidations, and security reductions.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company