Friday, April 23, 2010
Judge: Superior Court to Implement Pilot Program to Avoid Closures
By Steven M. Ellis, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court will begin a pilot program next month to see if it can cut costs and avoid court closures by having groups of five judges share four sets of staff members, Los Angeles Superior Court Civil Division Supervising Judge Elihu M. Berle said yesterday.
Berle told judges in an e-mail that court leadership had authorized the creation of the “5 x 4 (‘Five by Four’) POD Pilot Program” at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to examine an alternate method of operating civil courtrooms with fewer personnel.
The move was prompted, Berle said, by the court’s $140 million budget deficit next fiscal year. He wrote that the deficit, which is expected to lead to 500 employee layoffs in September, currently means that 50 courtrooms across the county will be closed, including 10 civil courtrooms at the Mosk Courthouse.
Berle predicted that the savings from the program would be equivalent to the staff savings of closing a courtroom, and said it would avert the need to reallocate civil caseloads and a concomitant increase in case inventories of remaining open courtrooms.
He also identified the first group of judges to participate, the “ALPHA POD,” as Judges James R. Dunn of Department 26, Mary Strobel of Department 32, Charles F. Palmer of Department 33, Elizabeth Allen White of Department 48 and William F. Fahey of Department 78. Berle said they would begin working as a POD beginning May 3.
He told the MetNews yesterday that the five judges had been chosen for the project because they are “very efficient and well-respected,” and “among the [court’s] best and brightest.”
Under the program Berle described, each of the five courts in a POD would operate with a staff—consisting of a judicial assistant, a courtroom assistant and a court reporter—four days per week handling trials and law and motion calendars.
The courts would stagger the fifth, staff-free day amongst them, on which judges would handle settlement conferences or work on matters in chambers without a staff. Judges would be prohibited from increasing the workload and squeezing five days of work into four days, and would not call on central services for assistance on staff-free days.
Berle said each POD is intended to “function as a ‘little laboratory’ to enable member judges to co-operate with each other in order to experiment with innovative procedural techniques in an effort to handle civil litigation more efficiently.”
He added that such techniques might include team mandatory settlement conferences, early telephonic discovery dispute resolutions on non-staff days, reduced jury venires and summary jury trials, among others.
Berle wrote that each court would keep its inventory of cases and receive its share of new cases, ensuring the responsibility and accountability of the judges for the inventory, and encouraging active management of the cases.
He anticipated that the program would lead to hearing dates on motions and trial dates being set further out on the calendar, but added, “we would face this very same issue with the closure of courtrooms (and consequential increase in the inventory of remaining courtrooms) or with a master calendar system.”
Berle declined yesterday to speculate when the court plans to review the project and consider possible expansion, commenting, “It’s up to court leadership.”
He did, however, say that any expansion of the program is likely to first occur within the Mosk Courthouse.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company