Thursday, November 15, 2012
Superior Court Plans Drastic Cutbacks for Coming Fiscal Year
10 Courthouses to Be Virtually Shut Down, Master Calendar System Partially Reinstated
BY ROGER M. GRACE
An outline of a preliminary plan for severe Los Angeles Superior Court cutbacks was distributed internally yesterday, with 10 courthouses being slated to be virtually shuttered.
All personal injury cases and limited civil cases are to be shifted to the Mosk Courthouse, with the master calendaring system being reinstituted for those cases.
The plan was approved yesterday by the court’s Executive Committee.
“For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013, the Los Angeles Superior Court projects a shortfall of between $50 million and $80 million,” the outline notes.
Matters now heard in about two dozen courthouses will be confined to a few “hubs,” under the plan.
It calls for restricting small claims proceedings to six locations (Mosk, Alhambra, Norwalk, Van Nuys, Inglewood, Antelope Valley), deciding landlord-tenant disputes in five facilities (Mosk, Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Antelope Valley), and dealing with collections-related civil matters in two places (Chatsworth and Norwalk).
Least hit are criminal court operations, with matters being heard in 21 courthouses, rather than 27, as at present.
Master Calendar System
The item most likely to draw attention from the bar is this:
“Centralized management of civil cases (i.e., master calendar): Pre-trial matters and trials in civil cases will be heard by different judges, perhaps in different courthouses.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon yesterday clarified that the master calendar system will be resurrected only with respect to personal injury cases, as well as limited civil, collections, and unlawful detainer cases.
She told the MetNews that the switch to an individual calendaring (“IC”) system was one of the best moves the court has made as said the court will “try to keep that system as much as possible.”
The “individual,” or “direct,” calendaring system (the key element of the “fast track” plan) replaced the master calendar system in the early 1990s and was credited with speeding the resolution of cases.
Edmon observed that personal injury cases “take far less judicial hand-holding” than some other types of cases, rendering a master calendar approach practical.
The presiding judge noted that in cases, such as those involving catastrophic injuries, where the plaintiff “really does need IC treatment,” it will be possible to make an application to be removed from the master calendar system.
Users of the courts will experience inconvenience, in particular in connection with personal injury cases. With all actions being tried in the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center, it will mean proceedings being conducted as far away as 67 miles from the local courthouse.
Hundreds of court employees have already been laid off, and positions left unfilled, resulting in long lines and reduced services.
No Court Reporters
These additional changes are planned:
“• Eliminate part-time Court Reporters in civil courtrooms;
“• Reduce Alternative Dispute Resolution program to statutory minimum;
“• Reduce Dependency Mediation program.
“• Eliminate juvenile Referee positions.”
The last action would mean entail nine Juvenile Court referees being laid off.
There will be “[f]ewer fully-staffed courtrooms” and “[f]ewer judicial officers will be available to hear traditional calendars,” under the plan.
Courthouses selected for virtual closure are those in Huntington Park, Whittier, Pomona (North), Malibu, West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and two facilities in San Pedro, as well as the Catalina Courthouse and the David V. Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The current plan is to shift cases as shown on chart appearing below.
The affected courthouses will remain open for minimal purposes, the MetNews has learned, because there would be a need to comply with new building requirements if they were re-opened followed a total shutdown.
There have been persistent rumblings as to the prospect of shifting all probate cases to the Mosk Courthouse.
Widely discussed is the prospect of a “last resort” measure: instituting litigation to force the Legislature to adequately fund the courts, as a co-equal branch of government, so that they can perform their constitutional responsibilities.
Edmon said that the prospect has not been mulled as much by judges as by members of the bar. She said she participated in a panel discussion Saturday which included State Bar Executive Director Joe Dunn who, she recounted, related that his organization is “exploring the possibility of litigation.”
Dunn is a former state senator who represented parts of Orange County.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company