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Lockups at 3 Courthouses to Close

October 18, 2002|Anna Gorman and Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles County Superior Court announced Thursday that it will close lockups at courthouses in Hollywood, Monrovia and South Gate, forcing hundreds of criminal cases to be transferred and upsetting some law enforcement officials and community members.

Layoffs will also continue, with about 86 employees expected to receive notice today that Oct. 31 will be their last day of work. An additional 90 employees will be transferred with pay cuts of as much as $7,000 annually. The affected employees range from senior court managers to entry-level clerical personnel.

Union representatives said they were relieved that there were fewer positions slashed than first estimated, but they will continue lobbying local and state officials to prevent more cuts.

Court officials announced in August that they were facing a $57-million deficit and would reduce expenditures by 10%. During the first round of cuts, about 168 employees were let go, out of a work force of about 5,500. Since then, judges and administrators have tried to continue downsizing without affecting daily operations. The results are better than expected, they said.

"We've tried to minimize the impact as much as possible," said Assistant Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes. "We're happy this is all we have had to do."

No courthouses will be closed entirely. Nine judges will be transferred to new courthouses, including Judge Lloyd M. Nash, who is presiding over actor Robert Blake's murder trial. The court also named the 29 courtrooms around Los Angeles County that will be shut, including five in Van Nuys, two in Chatsworth, three in the metropolitan courthouse, two in the downtown criminal courts building and five in the central civil courthouse. Individual courtrooms are being closed in several other locations, including Santa Monica, Downey, Pomona and West Los Angeles. The changes take effect Nov. 1.

Court administrators said they decided which lockups to close based on volume, cost of operation and the ability of nearby courthouses to take the caseload.

Because of the closures, cases with defendants in custody will move from Hollywood to downtown and from South Gate to either Downey or Bellflower. All of Monrovia's criminal cases will be transferred to Alhambra.

Monrovia Police Chief Roger Johnson said that he must buy a new vehicle to transport defendants and that his officers will have to travel farther to testify.

"There is going to be a greater burden for us," he said. "But we can't just throw down our glove and say we're not playing. We still have to ... work within the system we have available."

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce mounted a letter-writing campaign to persuade officials to maintain the lockup at the courthouse. They said the closure is contrary to the community's 20-year effort to rid the area of quality-of-life crimes such as prostitution by creating a full-service courthouse.

"The courthouse is one of the key linchpins in the revitalization of Hollywood," said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "We are fearful of losing this momentum, that the lockup is the first step to a possible closure."

In recent weeks, court employees and union members have held demonstrations to try to save jobs. The unions are also lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento to increase the local court budget, said Sandy Stewart of Service Employees International Union Local 660.

Superior Court Executive Officer John A. Clarke said he regrets the layoffs and closures, but said there was no alternative. "As a court system, we're not immune to the effects of the economy on our operation."

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