Friday, July 15, 2011
San Francisco Court to Lay Off 200, Including Commissioners
Presiding Judge Edmon Says Similar Measures Not Being Ruled Out Here
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The San Francisco Superior Court has announced that it is preparing to send layoff notices to 40 percent of its staff on Monday, and Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Lee Edmon said yesterday such drastic measures are not being ruled out locally in the wake of larger-than-anticipated state budget cuts.
“All options are on the table at this point,” Edmon said, adding that the court leadership has not yet decided how to proceed.
She remarked that she “fully expect[ed]” the Judicial Council to adopt the recommendation made Wednesday by its Trial Court Budget Working Group and the appellate court leadership to cut trial court funding by 6.7 percent in the next fiscal year at a meeting scheduled for next Friday, so she was “looking to see how we can absorb cuts of this size.”
Edmon acknowledged “trial courts have been cut to the bone” already, noting the superior court “laid off 500 people not too long ago” but said she was “very hopeful” that a “restructuring process” will provide a solution to the court’s lack of funding.
“The courts are not allowed to determine their own service level,” she explained. “We are compelled by law to accept every lawful filing that comes to us,” and the manner in which those filings are handled “is tightly constrained by statute and court rule.”
The jurist said she would work with the Legislature, bar associations and justice system partners to “try to figure out ways that we can change some of the mandated procedures that we currently face,” such as the possibility of turning infractions over to municipalities, mandating jury trials in fewer cases, simplifications of civil or criminal procedure, and changes in timeliness rules.
“This year is bad and next year is worse,” she said, “so we’ve just got to figure out a way to get through it.” Edmon emphasized that “we really do believe that our top priority is to keep the courthouse doors open,” and vowed to “do everything we can to try to avoid” furloughs and court closures.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Daniel Goldstein, a director of the Alliance of California Judges, commented yesterday that the anticipated closures and layoffs in San Francisco are “such a shame.”
More Layoffs Predicted
He predicted “more staff is going to be laid off in more counties to come” since there is “not a great deal of money left to provide the services that we need to provide,” and he said he blamed this shortage of funding on fiscal mismanagement of the branch leadership.
“This is really a governance issue,” Goldstein contended, condemning the Judicial Council’s decision to divert resources from Trial Court Trust Fund for use on development of its controversial $1.9 billion case management system.
“That money should not have been dedicated to such a flawed system knowing that we were in the midst of a terrible recession and there were going to be significant cuts to the branch,” Goldstein said, insisting “everybody had to know the budget was going to be really bad” and that “the branch as going to have to suffer these continual cuts.”
He suggested “there are solutions” to the branch’s budgetary woes, but “you have to look at long-term goals.. focused on governance, on the ability of local courts to make the decisions on how they spend their money, and on the curtailment of this statewide bureaucracy…that funded a failed computer system in the midst of a budget crisis… and that has given local judges very little input as to how the finite dollars that the branch has available to it are spent.”
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Superior Court said yesterday that it is anticipating a budgetary shortfall of over $13 million. The recommendations coming out of Wednesday’s budget meeting, she said, do not affect the court’s plans.
“We’re out of options right now,” the spokesperson said, which is “extremely painful.”
She said the court is anticipating cutting about 200 positions “from commissioners to clerks and court reporters and management” effective Sept 30. The following Monday, she said, only 280 employees will be left, and 25 courtrooms will be closed, “which will dramatically change our court and the services we provide to the public.”
San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein, who did not return a call seeking comment yesterday, is scheduled to hold a news conference Monday morning on the layoffs.
Edmon said yesterday that she has “great respect” for Feinstein, and that San Francisco “could not have a better leader for the court at this difficult time.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company