Friday, June 14, 2013
Budget Deal ‘Too Little, Too Late’ to Avoid Layoffs, Wesley Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court will deliver layoff notices to 177 employees today, despite a budget deal announced in Sacramento this week that will add close to $20 million to the court’s coffers, court officials said yesterday.
The additional money—part of $60 million that will go to trial courts statewide—will be “too little, too late, to stop the layoffs, or the reduction in access to justice that state funding cuts have produced,” Presiding Judge David Wesley said in a release yesterday. Wesley voiced hope “that we will not have to make further cuts to staff or services in the foreseeable future” as a result of the additional funding.
The layoffs are part of a plan to reduce the workforce by 511 positions. A total of about 1,400 positions have been eliminated since 2008 as the budget has been continually cut to deal with state budget deficits.
“Assuming that Governor Brown signs into law the budget increase proposed for the trial courts, our Court’s share will barely cover the remainder of our structural deficit. For the first time since the budget crisis began, we will have finally resolved our structural deficit,” Wesley said. “
Over the past decade, the court said, it has eliminated 30 percent of its budgeted staff positions, the bulk of the reduction coming in the last five years.
The layoffs and staffing reductions implemented today are the final stage of a consolidation plan announced by the court last November.
The court has previously closed the Pomona North, Whittier, Huntington Park, Beacon Street, San Pedro, Kenyon Juvenile, West Los Angeles and Malibu courthouses and cutback on services offered at its Beverly Hills and Catalina facilities; consolidated various types of civil cases at a handful of “hub” courthouses; eliminated the remaining part-time court reporters in civil courts; eliminated all full-time referee positions in the juvenile courts and eliminated its ADR unit.
“Hubbing” has been particularly controversial. It has been criticized by legal services lawyers, community groups, and the Los Angeles City Council, which has passed two resolutions on the subject.
While the criticism has been to little effect, two federal lawsuits are pending, in which the plaintiffs contend that requiring low-income persons to travel long distances to attend to evictions and other serious personal legal matters deprives them of due process.
The presiding judge offered little optimism.
“We have reached the new normal,” he said. “And there is nothing to like about it.”
He aimed his sights at Sacramento.
“When the Municipal and Superior Courts unified, our vision was to be the largest neighborhood court and to maintain a presence in many communities throughout LA County,” Wesley said. “This is not the neighborhood court we worked so hard to build. It is not our vision for access to justice. But this is the Court that the state is willing and able to support. We will be using our collective energy as a court to provide access to justice in every case type within the limits of the resources we have been provided.”
In addition to axing177 employees, the court said, it will have to demote 139 people to their former jobs, with resulting pay cuts, and reassign 223 workers to new locations, effective Monday.
Assistant Presiding Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl said it was ironic that many of those affected by these actions have been working on the consolidation plan.
“They and all our employees have done the impossible: moving hundreds of thousands of case files, and dismantling and rebuilding large parts of our Court,” she said in a statement. “I admire their commitment to serving the public. It has never wavered.”
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company