Delays, Costs Rise As Next Round Of Court Cuts Arrives

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Justice won’t be denied, but it’s sure to be delayed as the largest justice system in the state gets smaller this week. Los Angeles County Superior Court is eliminating 511 jobs as part of a plan to close a projected $85-million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, the Los Angeles Times reports. Layoff notices are expected to be delivered to employees June 14.

Some positions will simply go unfilled, 177 people will lose their jobs, and an additional 139 people will receive demotions and pay cuts, while 223 people will be transferred to new work locations, court officials announced June 11. Including this round of cuts, the court has lost 1,398 positions since 2008, according to court spokeswoman Mary Hearn.

wesleyWith its annual operating budget last year of $734 million, Presiding Judge David S. Wesley (pictured at right), said the cuts he’s made address about $56 million of the shortfall.

In a deal with legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown agreed this week to restore $63 million to the courts in the state budget that will take effect July 1. But the additional funds — of which L.A. County is projected receive about a third — will not stop the cuts in Los Angeles County, Wesley said.

“We are glad that restoration of trial court funding has begun,” Wesley said in a statement. “But it is a shame that it is too little, too late, to stop the awful reductions in access to justice that state funding cuts have brought.”

Under Wesley’s cost-cutting plan, several case types, such as small claims and personal injury lawsuits, have been consolidated to a handful of locations throughout the county, called “hub” courts. The number of courts hearing eviction cases, for example, has been reduced to 5 from 26.

Seven L.A. County courthouses shut their doors this month: Whittier, Huntington Park, Pomona North, Malibu, West Los Angeles, San Pedro and the David V. Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in South Los Angeles. The San Pedro Courthouse Annex on Beacon Street closed earlier this year.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye

The court cuts are not only inconvenient for litigants, officials said; they also are costing them more money. In her State of the Judiciary address in March, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (pictured at right) said courts statewide have needed to impose higher filing fees and higher fines to offset some of the cuts.

“All of us are concerned that the high fines and higher penalties are falling on those least able to afford it,” she said, adding that she worried the judicial branch “may become a user-fee institution.”

Statewide, the first filing fee for a general civil case has increased to $435 from $320 in 2008. Divorce filings have also increased by more than 35% over that time period to $435 today. The cost of getting a certified copy of a court document has increased to $25 from $15.

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