Tuesday, March 23, 2010
McCoy Warns Court Staff Reductions Will Lead to Delays in Justice
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles W. “Tim” McCoy yesterday warned that staff reductions and courtroom closures are likely to more than double the average length of time it takes for cases to be resolved.
McCoy made the prediction as part of a PowerPoint slideshow to a collection of judges, lawyers and reporters addressing the practical ramifications of the anticipated cuts to court staff and trial capacity in the next three years.
Faced with the potential loss of nearly 35 percent of the court’s workforce and up to 182 courtrooms, McCoy said, “the number of effective, dependable, timely trial dates will significantly decrease” and “inevitably, the system will just slow down.”
For the adage that “cases settle on the courthouse steps” to be true, McCoy remarked, “the court has to be open.” Without the threat of a trial looming, he added, settlements that could be made are not likely to be reached, which will cause the court’s backlog to increase exponentially.
The judge used the Stanley Mosk Courthouse as an illustration, explaining that the 47 courtrooms each have a caseload of about 450 matters for which the average time from filing until disposition is about 16 months.
Losing 16 of those courtrooms would increase the caseloads for the remaining trial judges to 820 matters, and lengthen the time until disposition to nearly 30 months, McCoy predicted, noting that if 23 courtrooms close, the average caseload would increase to 1,237 and time until disposition would be 45 months.
McCoy emphasized the court is facing “an unprecedented crisis in state funding,” with a structural deficit of about $130 million. As over 80 percent of the court’s operating budget goes to employee salaries and benefits, he commented, “the only way to reduce costs in large amounts is by workforce reductions.”
But the judge called court personnel “the critical factor” in preserving courtroom operations, since it takes about 10 employees to support a trial. Without personnel to staff courtrooms, he explained, trial capacity will be reduced and judges “are going to have to get very, very creative” in addressing their workloads.
With the layoff of 329 employees last week and an additional 500 positions being cut in September, McCoy warned that the court would be “inevitably forced to put efficiency over local community contacts and services” in order to serve the 100,000 people who utilize the court system in Los Angeles County each day.
Over the next three years, McCoy said, the courts would “need to consolidate” and have “fewer but larger functional entities,” with some locations no longer handling matters in various substantive areas of law.
He predicted that “things are definitely going to be worse next year,” but said the potential solution is “not rocket science,” renewing his plea, which he began making last November, for the reallocation of monies dedicated for courthouse construction and the development of a statewide case management system to court operations.
The Administrative Office of the Courts has defended its decision to proceed with the court construction and renovation project, claiming that delay would impair the state’s ability to create 105,000 jobs and result in lost buying power. The organization has also taken the position that continued work on its case management system is necessary to prevent a complete loss of its seven-year investment in the technology.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company