Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Edmon, Wesley Outline Plans for Closure of 56 Courtrooms
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The presiding judge and assistant presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday gave the most detailed information to date regarding the court’s plan to close 56 courtrooms in order to meet its share of statewide judicial branch budget cuts.
Speaking to reporters at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown, Presiding Judge Lee Edmon and Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley reiterated what had already been made public—the court will, between now and June 30, be reducing its staff by nearly 350 workers, closing 56 courtrooms, reducing its use of court reporters and eliminating the Informal Juvenile Traffic Courts.
Court-employed reporters will no longer be available to report civil trials after May 15, Edmon said, although trials in progress as of that date will not be affected. Reporters in law-and-motion courts will be available only on a limited basis after June 18, she said.
Still a Struggle
While the court has already made permanent changes that cut its spending by $70 million annually, the restructuring of the court will save another $30 million, as the court struggles to meet its share of budget cuts that have been imposed on trial courts statewide.
“This is a very sad day for our court and county,” Edmon said. “We will lose dedicated court employees, some who have been here over 30 years.”
The situation could get worse, she said. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes $125 million in “trigger cuts” to the courts, $30 million of which would have to be absorbed by the Los Angeles Superior Court unless an initiative increasing taxes is approved in November. And even if the trigger cuts do not take effect, the court’s reduced spending level will represent its “new baseline,” Edmon said.
Under the plan, some of the 56 courtrooms would be physically shuttered, while others may be used for activities not requiring staff assistance, such as settlement conferences, the presiding judge explained. Some judicial officers who now have fully staffed courtrooms will be moved to settlement duty.
The changes will affect virtually every type of case at every court facility in the county, with 24 criminal courts among the 56.
Edmon acknowledged that the courts will still have to meet statutory mandates that require that criminal cases be given priority over civil, and that cases go to trial within strict deadlines. “We will have to monitor the situation carefully,” she said.
At the Foltz Criminal Justice Center, for example, four misdemeanor and preliminary hearing courtrooms will close, along with a complex trial department in which Judge Lance Ito sits.
Ito, the court’s best-known judge since his handling of the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, will become a “utility player” for the court, Wesley said, borrowing the baseball term for someone who can fill in at a variety of positions. Edmon said the court would be borrowing on Ito’s many years of criminal law experience to handle a wide assortment of matters.
Central District Civil
Four other courtrooms hearing misdemeanors and infractions in the court’s Central District will be closed under the plan, one each in East Los Angeles, Metropolitan Court, Hollywood, and Central Arraignment Court.
At Mosk, two general civil and one limited civil courtrooms—Departments 19,39, and 44—will be closed, along with Dept. 1A, which hears a variety of civil matters.
Department 12, which grants writs of attachment, will also close. Matters now heard in that department will go to the individual calendar judges to whom the underlying cases have been assigned.
Judge Luis Lavin, who now sits in that department, will become the court’s third Writs and Receivers judge. But the three judges will share two staffs, Edmon explained.
Also slated for closure is Department 97, which hears various civil matters, including unlawful detainers and small claims. The court sent out a notice Monday that Judge Robert Schuit would be moving from that department to Sylmar Juvenile Court as of April 30.
Finally, three civil long cause courts, all presided over by former presiding judges, will be consolidated into two.
In other moves, as indicated on a chart distributed yesterday:
•The domestic violence court, Dept. 8, will close. A court spokesman said a new system, in which three commissioners would share responsibility for domestic violence restraining orders and injunctions against civil harassment, would be implemented.
One regular family law department will also close;
•One probate court will close;
•As previously reported by the MetNews, four juvenile delinquency courtrooms—one each in Eastlake, Inglewood, Sylmar, and Pomona—will close;
•One criminal and two civil courts at Pomona South will close, along with one civil court at Pomona North. The court previously announced that the Pomona North limited civil caseload is being moved to West Covina;
•One court that hears small claims, unlawful detainers, and civil harassment cases at the Antelope Valley courthouse will be closed;
•A civil court in Pasadena and a misdemeanor court in Alhambra, both in the Northeast District, will close;
•A limited civil court in Glendale and a family law court in Burbank will close. The family law caseload in Burbank will shift to Glendale;
•Three courts will close in the North Valley District—civil courts in Chatsworth and Santa Clarita and a criminal court in San Fernando. Judge David Stuart, whose Chatsworth courtroom is the one slated for closure, is slated to move to San Fernando May 1;
•Four courts hearing civil cases and infractions in Van Nuys will close;
•Three courts in Long Beach, including that of retiring Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani, will close;
•Three courts in the South Central District will close;
•Four courts in the Southeast District—one each in Bellflower, Downey, Norwalk, and Whittier will close. The Downey limited civil caseload will be moved to Bellflower, which is losing a misdemeanor court;
•Three Southwest District courts, two in Torrance and one in Inglewood, will close;
•Four West District courts—one each at the Santa Monica, Airport, Beverly Hills and Malibu courthouses—will close. The Airport courtroom is the one formerly presided over by Judge Jacquelyn Connor, who retired.
The court is encouraging attorneys whose cases may be affected to check the “Notice to Attorneys” section of its website.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company