Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, April 23, 2004


Page 1


Much of Caseload From Closed Courthouses Will Move To Vacant Courtrooms, Superior Court Says


By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer


Most of the caseload currently handled in three courthouses slated for closure will be moved to courtrooms left vacant by earlier cost-reduction measures, Los Angeles Superior Court officials said yesterday.

A news release circulated by the court’s Public Information Office provided additional details about the planned closures, of which court employees were informed Wednesday in a memo from Executive Officer/Clerk John A. Clarke. The release said cases handled at the six courtrooms currently in use at the Culver City, Monrovia and South Gate courthouses will move to courtrooms at the Huntington Park, Alhambra, and Santa Monica facilities.

The caseload of Monrovia’s single operating courtroom will move to an unused Alhambra courtroom, the release said, while Culver City’s three-courtroom caseload will move to Santa Monica.

The caseload of the two courtrooms operating at the South Gate courthouse will move into courtrooms currently being used for criminal cases at the Huntington Park courthouse. The lockups permitting the Huntington Park and Malibu courthouses to handle custody criminal cases will be closed.

Huntington Park’s misdemeanor cases will move to East Los Angeles and its felony caseload to the downtown Metropolitan Courthouse. Malibu’s criminal caseload will be divided between the Airport and Van Nuys courts.

The closures and relocations are to be effective by late June, the release said, except for the closure of the Culver City courthouse, which will be delayed until renovations currently under way at the Santa Monica facility are completed in November.

Though neither the news release nor Clarke’s memo referred to the planned changes as a proposal, the release acknowledged that Rule 6.620 of the California Rules of Court requires the Superior Court to solicit public comment before closing courthouses. The court’s Executive Committee will consider any comments received and “vote on final approval of the plan” on May 19, the release said.

A court spokesperson said public notices will be posted at courthouses and on the Superior Court’s Web site on April 28, 15 court days prior to the scheduled vote. Rule 6.620 requires public notice 15 days in advance of any decision.

“Right now this is a plan,” the spokesperson declared.

Representatives of two employee unions said they met yesterday with court officials to discuss the planned closures and do not currently expect to oppose them. But District Attorney Steve Cooley released a statement suggesting he might.

Cooley’s statement said that while his office “fully understands the budget constraints encountered by the Superior Court,” the court “should appreciate that it is but one participant in the justice system.”

He continued:

“Its proposed actions severely impact the law enforcement community, especially police departments of smaller cities. The proposed actions substantially increase the burden on crime victims. This office eagerly anticipates providing our recommendations and input to the court within the next two weeks.”

Michael Boggs of Local 910 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the court’s research attorneys and law clerks, said the plan is “probably a good thing.”

Sandy Stewart of Service Employees International Union Local 660, which represents about 3,000 court workers, said:

“We’re just glad there’s not going to be any layoffs. They needed to do it.”

Boggs said officials from the AFSCME local representing courtroom clerks was also present at the meeting, but a union spokesperson did not return a call from the METNEWS.

The court’s news release noted that while the number of courthouses will be reduced under the plan from 57 to 54, the number of operating courtrooms—583—will not change. It noted that the three courthouses slated for closure are among the county’s smallest.

The court shut down 29 courtrooms to save money in late 2002.

The plan will save slightly more than $4 million in security costs, the release said. It listed the savings under the plan as:

•$622,000 from closing the South Gate courthouse.

•$299,000 from closing the Monrovia courthouse.

•$477,000 from closing the Culver City courthouse.

•$194,000 from deactivating the lockup at the Malibu courthouse.

•$534,000 from deactivating the lockup at the Huntington Park courthouse.

•$283,000 from reduced usage of services and supplies due to the closures.

•$1.1 million from courtwide revisions in weapons screening and building security activities.

Also included in the savings total was $769,000 from deactivating the lockup at the Santa Monica courthouse and moving that facility’s criminal caseload to the Airport courthouse. That change had been previously announced, but will not be completed until June.Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company