Thursday, September 12, 2002
Court’s Leaders Set to Vote on New Layoffs, Courtroom Closures
Decision Set for Next Wednesday on Plan to Slash 15 Percent From Budget
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court would eliminate 26 judicial positions and 29 courtrooms and lay off another 150 court employees under a plan sent to each judge and due to be voted on Sept. 18.
The proposal, which calls on each geographic and administrative department of the court to slash 15 percent from the budget, comes in response to cuts in the state allocation to the judicial branch in the current budget year.
Assistant Presiding Judge Robert Dukes called the court’s financial situation “a significant challenge.”
“It will be a rational overall contraction,” Dukes told the MetNews. “We have to forecast and plan as best we can under a budget that is shrinking rather than expanding.”
The plan has been approved by the court’s Personnel and Budget Committee and the supervising judges, and comes before the Executive Committee when it meets next week.
The plan does not cite specific program cuts or name the courtrooms to be closed or bench positions to be eliminated, court spokesman Allan Parachini said. Implementation decisions would follow adoption of the plan, he said, and recommendations for department cuts are due from each manager next week.
“Any additional staff cuts would be across the board, up and down through all levels of the hierarchy,” Parachini said.
Each manager was given a target number in salary savings, with a 15 percent minimum cut for each department and at least $50,000 in salary cuts.
The court has already terminated 160 temporary employees, clerks in training and student workers, partially in response to the logjam caused by the Legislature’s failure to pass a budget bill on time. The bill finally passed more than 60 days late and was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis earlier this month.
But the court already was aware that the slowing economy would require additional cuts and floated the plan to cut 29 courtrooms. Each courtroom costs about $302,000 in salaries to operate, not including the judge’s salary.
Parachini said yesterday there were no plans currently to close any courthouses or so-called “specialty courts” like drug or domestic violence courts.
The court is not authorized to lay off judges or cut full-time judgeships. But it can eliminate commissioner positions and referee posts.
“Some of those would probably be in juvenile,” Parachini said. “We don’t know how many.”
The court also is negotiating with the Sheriff’s Department to slash its contract for courthouse bailiff and lockup services. The contract between the court and the county, which also is financially strapped, calls for a $105 million annual payment to the Sheriff’s Department. The court is seeking to cut its payments by $10 million.
Discussions include removing bailiffs from some courtrooms and taking lockup out of some courthouses, meaning those courts no longer would be able to handle felony or violent misdemeanor cases.
Parachini acknowledged that there could well be an impact on the timing of civil and criminal cases.
“We are in the process of analyzing that,” he said. “It’s clear that there will be some impact on case management.”
Dukes said the court would try to hold that impact to a minimum.
“There should not generally be a perception of loss of service,” Dukes said. “It is clearly our goal that the public should not perceive any substantial decrease in service or in the delivery of justice.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company