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L.A. County courts to close 1 day a month

The closures and worker furloughs, to start in July, are prompted by a projected $90-million shortfall caused by the state's budget crisis, officials say.

May 20, 2009|Victoria Kim

Los Angeles County Superior Court officials announced Tuesday they would shut down court operations one day a month and furlough employees to address a projected $90-million shortfall caused by the state's continuing budget crisis.

The county's 600 courtrooms and all court services including traffic matters will be closed the third Wednesday of each month, starting July 15, saving about $18 million annually, court officials said. Chief Justice Ronald George of the California Supreme Court is considering taking the monthly closures statewide, officials said.

If the financial situation does not improve, the courts could eventually lay off as many as 1,300 employees, or a quarter of the workforce, in the next four years, said Charles "Tim" McCoy, presiding judge of the county's court system. Such cuts would lead to total closure of some courthouses and massive cuts in court services, he said.

"The justice system provides public safety. That system needs to be operating five days a week," McCoy said at a news conference. The monthly closure plan, he said, "puts the public at some risk."

McCoy said a handful of courtrooms would remain open on the furlough days to handle emergency matters. He said he anticipated a backlog of cases to build up as a result of the closures.

The anticipated deficit stems from cuts in state funding for the 2009-10 fiscal year. In the budget enacted in February, trial courts statewide took more than $200 million in cuts, said Donna Hershkowitz, assistant director of the Administrative Office of the Courts' lobbying office. The cuts have forced courts statewide to tighten their belts by imposing hiring freezes, leaving vacant positions unfilled and reducing counter hours, she said.

"We're at a point now, with this magnitude of cuts and shortfall, that there is no way to absorb this without affecting the public," she said.

In 2002, during the state's last fiscal crisis, the L.A. County Superior Court closed 29 courtrooms and three jail lockups and laid off more than 150 employees. This year's anticipated deficit is nearly double the shortfall the courts faced at the time, officials said.


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