Monday, January 14, 2013
Governor Brown’s ‘Crippling’ Budget Cuts to Force Court to Go Ahead With Shutdown Plans—Wesley
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court will continue to implement its previously announced plans to scale back its operations in light of Thursday’s budget announcement by the governor, Presiding Judge David Wesley said Friday.
“We are witnessing the dismantling of the Los Angeles justice system,” Wesley, who began his two-year term in the post Jan. 1, said in a statement. “The sustained decline in state support for the California trial courts evidenced in the Governor’s budget proposal will prove crippling to our ability to provide adequate access to justice.”
Under the previously announced plan, the court will close 10 courthouses by the end of the current fiscal year June 30.
“The Governor proposes to maintain last year’s level of fiscal support for the trial courts. In place of $400 million of expired one-time funding solutions in the FY12-13 budget, he proposes to redirect $200 million of money currently earmarked for new courthouse construction, and fill the rest with General Fund revenues.
“This proposal would preserve $505 million of reductions in state support already imposed on California’s trial courts. Those reductions result in an annual budget shortfall of $195 million for the Los Angeles Superior Court in fiscal year 2013-14.”
The court, Wesley said, has already absorbed most of the shortfall by reducing staffing by more than 800 positions over the past three years, creating a $110 million reduction in annual spending.
But while the court has “implemented significant operating efficiencies” in its efforts to keep courtrooms open, the presiding judge lamented, “we have run out of options.” The court faces a current $85 million shortfall and will be out of reserves by June, he said.
Under the plan announced in November, 10 courthouses—Pomona North, Whittier, Huntington Park, Catalina, San Pedro, Beacon Street, Malibu, West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center—will be closed, and other operations will be consolidated.
The November announcement said that small claims cases, now heard at 26 locations around the county, would be heard only at the Stanley Mosk, Alhambra, Norwalk, Van Nuys, Inglewood, and Antelope Valley courthouses. Landlord-tenant disputes would be heard at Mosk, Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Antelope Valley) and collections-related civil matters in Chatsworth and Norwalk.
Least hit would be criminal court operations, with matters being heard in 21 courthouses, rather than 27, as at present.
A “large number” of employee positions will be eliminated, Wesley said in Friday’s announcement. Specifics will be an- nounced after meetings with employee unions, he said.
“The necessary consolidation will greatly reduce the range of services available to communities throughout the county of Los Angeles,” Wesley said. “It will place a significant burden on law enforcement officials, prosecutors and other justice system partners. And it will make it much more difficult for people to get to court.”
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company