Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 30, 2013


Page 6



Who Suffers Most?




 (The writer is a retired trial lawyer, an American Board of Trial Advocates member since 1978 and a former professor of torts at five California law schools. He counts 4,000 of his former students among California’s lawyers and judges. He was presiding referee of the Disciplinary Board, later called the State Bar Court. He is a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors—1980 to 1983—and the Judicial Council of California.)

The devastating effect of budget cuts on our education system has been so well publicized that we overlook the budgetary effect on the court system. As with everything else in life, the poor must suffer and the poorer, the more they suffer. There is just no truth that the idle poor will become the idle rich.

The contingency system has been heralded as the keys to the courthouse—a system unknown in various European countries. Hence, we allowed it with all its built-in problems. The system is dwarfed by the problems created by the present budgetary crisis. Who is suffering? The poor. Again, you will not note who is rich or who is which … what a switch.

Those who suffer injuries are dependent on the court system to obtain compensation. We had long delays in California’s trial courts. Then these delays were substantially reduced by what we called direct calendaring. Previously, only the imposition of a five-year deadline had forced the liability insurers to proceed to trial. Now, with a shortage of judges and facilities, we are back to lengthy delays. Who suffers? The injured plaintiff. Who benefits? The insurance carriers. Why? No insurance carrier will make an offer for a timely or reasonable settlement. Hence, the injured plaintiff, generally impoverished litigants, will be forced to accept a low, a very low settlement. In other words, the timing aids the rich. They have almost five years of interest free income.

Then there are the long, very long lines. The court system has already lost twenty-four percent of its employees. Yet, workload continues to increase. Present plans call for the elimination of 511 jobs to cut costs. Can one imagine the havoc in the so-called back office? There are long lines to file papers and with the elimination of courthouses and employees, the mess becomes bigger, the time spent on lines becomes more strenuous and a visit to the courthouses which are left in operation is reminiscent of the history of a repressive government. Yes, like a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles, this appears the last remnant if a repressive government. As populations bloom, services shrink. The idle poor, not the idle rich, bear the burden.

Twenty-four percent of court employees have already been cut in the last four years. Yet, the workload continues to increase. All eviction cases have been moved to five “hub” courts, i.e., Pasadena, Long Beach, Mosk and Santa Monica. Who lacks personal mobility and transportation? The poor or the rich? Eight regional courthouses are either closing or have already been closed, forcing an $85 million budget shortfall by July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. As the lines grow longer and filing fees increase, there is more and more confusion throughout the county system.

No changes are more dangerous than the closing of the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in South Los Angeles. Efforts to head off future gang violence are the number one priority and should not be on the bargaining table, but they are.


Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company