Thursday, February 4, 2010
McCoy: Superior Court Preparing to Lay Off 350 Workers
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles McCoy yesterday told the MetNews that the court is preparing to curtail its workforce in March.
“If there’s no change, then next month we’re going to lay off approximately 350 good, skilled court employees,” McCoy said.
Court Counsel Ivette Peña said that officials have had multiple meetings with the three unions who represent the vast majority of the court’s 5,400 employees to keep them abreast of developments and anticipated that a formal meet-and-confer process over the impact of layoffs would begin “very shortly.”
Peña said that a decision had not yet been made about which employees would be affected, adding that it was “feasible” some bargaining units would not be affected by this round of labor cuts.
The unions represent court reporters, interpreters, clerical staff, judicial assistants, research attorneys, family law services workers, paralegals and administrative services employees. Union leaders did not return calls seeking comment.
McCoy said that the court has a “$130 million structural deficit…year-over-year,” as a result of cuts to the judiciary by the Legislature, which “put us on a downhill slope where we’re going to be making more and more cuts over time.”
He insisted that such a situation was “unsustainable” for the courts, placing it in a position where it would have to reduce the number of employees by over 1,827 in the next two-and-a-half years—roughly 35 percent of its workforce.
The pace of the layoffs has been slowed somewhat by dipping into the court’s “rainy day fund,” McCoy said. “We don’t have to just make cuts all at once, we can do it over time, until we run out of the reserves,” he explained.
But McCoy contended it would be “fiscal suicide” to “avoid the cutbacks now and just spend all our reserves now in the hopes there will be future salvation.”
He likened the court’s financial situation to an airplane running low on fuel, which has the option of slowly descending and coming in for “a bumpy landing” or maintaining its altitude, “using up all of your gas and crashing from 30,000 feet.”
McCoy added that he was also going to be forming committees of judges and lawyers “to look for new, creative ways to best process our cases with the limited resources that we have at hand,” in anticipation of further lean years.
The jurist opined that the judiciary had five other courses of action it could pursue, which involve lobbying the Legislature or redirecting funds from other sources, reiterating proposals he began making last November.
“We can convince the Legislature to make no new cuts…get the Legislature to refund existing cuts…or raise taxes and fees,” he said. “I will do everything I can to persuade the Legislature they should do this, but it’s unlikely they’d be able to do much in these areas.”
The remaining options advanced by McCoy are to take funds allocated for developing a statewide case management system and courthouse construction, but these suggestions have been met with strong opposition from judges in other counties.
McCoy acknowledged that “we want to build new courthouses, and we want to build a much-needed new computer system, and we want to continue operating our courts without closures,” but maintained “we simply can’t afford to do it all, all at once,” and “something has to give.”
Characterizing the situation as a “great debate over priorities,” McCoy called on the Los Angeles legal community to support him and the members of his court in advocating that “our first priority is operating the courtrooms that we already have.”
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company