Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Court Employees Stage Protest at AOC Burbank Office
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Approximately 200 Los Angeles Superior Court employees and their supporters gathered yesterday at the Burbank office of the Administrative Office of the Courts to present a petition objecting to a proposed statewide closure of courts one day a month but were turned away by building management and police.
After a brief confrontation in the stairwell, the protestors returned to the plaza outside the building’s entrance and a representative from the AOC came to the lobby to accept the petition—a nearly foot-high stack of paper tied with a ribbon like a gift—and a banner from a union representative.
Venessa Gills, a union steward for SEIU Local 721—representing Los Angeles Superior Court’s court reporters, court services assistants, administrative assistants and court supervisors—and a court services assistant for the Los Angeles Superior Court spoke briefly with Sara Fisher, a manager for the AOC, while presenting her the petition.
Gills told Fisher that the court employees and courts provide essential services for the public and insisted that closing the courts for one day a month was not the appropriate solution to the judicial branch’s budgetary crisis.
In May, Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy announced that the Los Angeles Superior Court will shut down nearly all of its operations and furlough its employees the third Wednesday of each month, at least until the end of the current fiscal year, and a similar proposal is being considered by the AOC.
The closures and furloughs are expected to save the Los Angeles Superior Court $18 million annually, but will cost non-salaried employees approximately 4.7 percent of their income.
Caesar Rios, a court services assistant and union member complained that the furlough plan is “playing with our livelihoods,” adding that “we’re all family workers, and we want to ensure the security of our families.”
Carolyn King, a fellow court services assistant and member admitted “there are a lot of people that are scared…this is important to us.”
Damien Rosen, an attorney with the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles—a nonprofit, public interest law corporation funded by the AOC to serve as appointed counsel for children in foster care—also joined the protest.
He explained that Wednesdays are the busiest day for CLC because the government is required to hold a hearing within 72 hours of a child being removed from parental care, and most instances of removal take place on the weekends.
Court closures also will not save any money, Rosen argued, because a child who could be released will remain in the foster system for an additional day if the courts are closed, causing the government to incur the additional unnecessary expense of continuing to care for that child.
After the protesters were turned away from the building, Jason Capell, a union organizer, commented that “this is not the beginning and it’s not the end… they heard our message, and that’s the best you can ask for.”
The AOC issued a statement that it “shares many of the same goals as the union members,” maintaining that “[w]e want to ensure that courts provide effective services to the public, and we also want to protect the jobs of court employees.”
Acknowledging that “no one wants to shutter the courts for even one day a month,” the AOC defended the furlough proposal as a means to “minimize the impact of the $661 million shortfall now facing the judicial branch” that still “protects employees and keep many important court programs intact.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company