TORRANCE — "It was like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill," Chris Crawford said as he sat in his office last week. "And you can only shovel smoke for so long before you realize there is a certain amount of futility in it."
Crawford was speaking about his previous position at the Los Angeles Municipal Court, a job in which he supervised more than 250 court clerks and reporters and worked with more than 100 judges and commissioners at 11 courthouses in an area with a 120-mile radius.
But it is in his new job as administrator at the much smaller and less bureaucracy-laden Torrance Municipal Court that the 33-year-old Redondo Beach resident says he expects to make a greater impact by following the same personal philosophy he did downtown.
"It's been my policy in Los Angeles, and it will be my policy here that it is sometimes better to beg forgiveness than ask permission," Crawford said. "What that means is that it is sometimes better to act than to wait to be prodded to act. For instance, I'm not going to wait until I have employees hanging from the rafters before I do something about the lack of space around here."
Crawford took the $51,000-a-year Torrance position after working 13 years at the Los Angeles Municipal Court, the last two as chief of administrative services. A self-described "people person," he sprinkles his conversation with a lot of "I'll be franks" and "for cryin' out louds" and prefers to manage by mingling rather than sitting behind a desk.
"Chris is a very personable guy with strong interpersonal skills," said his former boss, Los Angeles Municipal Court Administrator Ed Kritzman.
"He can deal very effectively with judges who have divergent personalities," Kritzman said. He added that Crawford sees problems as challenges and tries to do something about them.
Only three weeks into his new job, Crawford already appears to be living up to his reputation. Working with the court's six judges and two commissioners, he is helping devise plans to solve the court's most pressing problem--a shortage of courtrooms.
The Municipal Court has only seven courtrooms, a situation that Crawford said has created a "logistical nightmare" and one that Judge Benjamin Aranda said has caused him to "threaten to hold session in the parking lot." The situation is expected to grow worse because the court is slated to gain another commissioner this summer, and the county Board of Supervisors may be persuaded to fund a seventh judge position that the state Legislature has already approved.
2 Options Considered
Crawford said judges are mulling over two options. The first is to hold split sessions at the court and assign certain judges and other court personnel to either a morning or afternoon shift. The courthouse would open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m.
Under the split-session system, which the Los Angeles Municipal Court already has adopted on a limited basis, civil and small-claims cases would be handled only during the second shift. "Basically, it means lopping off a portion of our business and staff and inserting it into an afternoon session," Crawford explained.
The other option being considered, Crawford said, is a four-day, 40-hour work-week, a system that, like a split-session, would allow each judge to always have a courtroom at his or her disposal. Crawford said he is unaware of any other court that operates on such a basis.
"You need a computer programmer to figure it all out, but it can be done," Crawford said.
Problems to Continue
Judges will probably choose an option within the next two weeks. But whichever is adopted, Crawford said the courthouse will still be confronted with the same problems that plague the Los Angeles court--inadequate facilities and a personnel shortage.
For example, a 1985 audit completed by the state's Judicial Council concluded that court would need 76 full-time clerical employees by this year to handle its workload, but it is budgeted for only 53 positions, Crawford said. One result has been a shortage of clerks to handle the long lines of people who come to the courthouse to pay parking tickets.
Additionally, the long-planned solution to the space problem--the construction of a new courthouse on 10 acres of county-owned land next to the existing 18-year-old courthouse on Maple Street--is likely to be delayed if a proposal scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors this week passes.
Bill Kreger, an executive in the county's chief administrative office, said supervisors will be asked Tuesday to delay approving funds for a new Torrance courthouse so the money can be spent to build court facilities in areas such as West Los Angeles where the need is considered to be greater.
Planned for 1990s
If the funds are delayed, the earliest Torrance would be likely to get a new courthouse would be the mid- to late-1990s. Originally, Torrance was slated to get the funding for a new courthouse in the early 1990s.