Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Superior Court Services Limited as Furloughs Begin
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court services will be available on a limited basis today as the court observes the first of what will be at least one year of monthly furlough days to save money.
Court officials said in a press release that all courthouses will be open to provide “essential services for the public” and that today is not a court holiday. A limited number of courtrooms will handle statutorily mandated hearings and felony bench warrants.
Courtrooms will also be open to handle requests for domestic violence, elder abuse or civil harassment restraining orders involving stalking and/or threats of violence.
Clerks’ offices will be open with limited services, the court said. Papers may be filed in by leaving them in secure drop boxes. Any filed papers left in a drop box by 4:30 p.m. will be considered filed today, but clerical personnel will not be available today to review papers or make copies.
Payments of fines and fees will be accepted through secured drop boxes only, and no receipts will be given, officials said. They noted that some court services, such as handling of traffic tickets, jury service inquiries and others, are available online, through lasuperiorcourt.org.
Court employees represented by Service Employees International Union Local 721—representing Los Angeles Superior Court’s court reporters, court services assistants, administrative assistants and court supervisors—and the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees were planning to hand out fliers explaining the closures in front of the county’s courthouses early this morning, according to a union spokesperson.
These flyers accuse the AOC of having “siphoned off nearly $2 billion for an ill advised computer system” and “closing the courts to pay for their pet project.”
The unions have been vocal opponents of the furlough plan announced by Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy on May 19, staging multiple protests in front of the Administrative Office of the Court facilities after McCoy informed judges, staff members and the public that except for essential operations, the courts will close on the third Wednesday of each month that the closures and furloughs could remain in place for up to two years..
“This is a day I hoped would never come,” he told reporters at the time. McCoy has scheduled a further briefing with the media for this afternoon.
The furloughs will affect approximately 600 courtrooms and bench officers, and more than 5,000 employees in 50 courthouses, but county agencies housed within those courthouses will be unaffected, court officials said. These closures are expected to save $18 million per year.
In addition to the furloughs, the court has implemented a mandatory hiring freeze, which McCoy predicted will “probably continue for the next three fiscal years.”
The court faces an estimated budget shortfall of nearly $90 million for the coming fiscal year, the officials explained in the release—nearly 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.
Although McCoy acknowledged the possibility of layoffs and program reductions in the future, he emphasized that such measures are “not in the plan” right now.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company