Thursday, July 17, 2009
No Big Problems as Court Employee Furloughs Begin, McCoy Says
But Lack of Services Makes It ‘Not a Good Day for Justice,’ Presiding Judge Tells Media
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The first of 12 monthly furlough days for the Los Angeles Superior Court passed yesterday without major incident, Presiding Judge Charles W. “Tim” McCoy reported during a press event.
While all courthouses remained open to handle emergency matters, McCoy said that 93 percent of operations within them were shuttered.
A limited number of courtrooms were available to handle requests for domestic violence, elder abuse or civil harassment restraining orders involving stalking and/or threats of violence as well as certain criminal matters, but McCoy said he believed all the criminal courts were dark yesterday.
McCoy thanked the media for spreading the word about the courthouse closures, noting that very few people had to be turned away, but maintained that “this has not been a good day for justice in Los Angeles.”
Citing the adage that “justice delayed is indeed justice denied,” McCoy said that his decision to close the courts, announced May 19, was not made easily, but the measure was necessary because “frankly we can’t afford to keep [the courts] operating.”
The closures are expected to save the Los Angeles Superior Court $18 million annually as it faces an estimated budgetary shortfall of $143 million in the coming fiscal year—over double the amount in the most recent budget crisis that erupted in 2002, which ultimately resulted in closure of 29 courtrooms and layoffs of more than 150 employees.
McCoy added that court closures will continue on the third Wednesday of each month for at least the next year, and possibly the next two years, but cautioned “there are limits beyond which we dare not go.”
Each time the court is forced to close “draws us nearer to a line that ultimately, we dare not cross,” McCoy insisted.
The furloughs affect approximately 600 courtrooms and bench officers, and more than 5,000 employees in 50 courthouses.
Non-salaried employees are unpaid on furlough days, but the annual $179,000 salary for judges cannot be reduced under the state Constitution. McCoy said that all of the court’s judges have volunteered to accept a pay cut in order to forestall more drastic measures, creating additional savings “in the millions.”
He added that all of the court’s judges were working yesterday too.
McCoy said the court will be using all of its $90 million reserves over the next two years, but cautioned next year will be “even harder” than this one.
In addition to the furloughs, McCoy said the court has implemented a mandatory hiring freeze and was examining the “increasing probability” of having to cease certain operations and “layoffs as a last resort.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company