Unlike L.A., Some Courts Cut The Cutting

Not all of California’s county courts are continuing with planned cutbacks in the wake of a state funding increase. San Mateo County Superior Court, for example, announced that one courtroom slated for closure would remain open and seven jobs will also be saved. The Daily Journal newspaper said that the county will get about $900,000 of the $60 million that the budget is returning to courts statewide.
However, the paper also noted, judicial officials say the increase “… must be viewed in light of $261 million in current cuts and mounting deficits from prior years of unprecedented slashing of funds.” The court is also a far cry from where it was last fall when judges announced the closing of six courtrooms along with shortened public service hours. Like other California courts, it is reorganizing in ways that will force people to travel longer distances to deal with cases ranging from traffic disputes to residential evictions.
How other counties handle cutbacks in the wake of the state funding increase could have impacts in Los Angeles, where some court critics day judicial administrators should have reduced or delayed job cuts due to the budget increase.
Read how San Mateo is doing here

Gay Marriage Ruling Begins A Process

This week’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage clears the way for same-sex couples to tie the knot in California, but the state’s legal system could take a month to complete its process. The judgement was, of course, big news across the state but for some of the better social media commentary and general over-the-top coverage of the Los Angeles celebration let us recommend our friends over at WEHOville.

Juvenile Court Judge Feeling Crappy About Justice System

Jim Newton’s L.A. Times column Monday offered a glimpse into what’s already happening to the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court, which continues to be a victim of the state’s judicial rationing. Newton profiled Judge Michael Nash, who supervises the court and is heralded by some for increasing transparency in the “Dependency Court” where foster care cases are heard. 
Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Juvenile Court in Los Angeles County (The Los Angeles Times published this photo as part of the juvenile court story.)

Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Juvenile Court in Los Angeles County. (The Los Angeles Times published this photo as part of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court story.)

“I feel as crappy about things as I have in a long time,” Nash tells the paper, adding that “… it’s just very difficult to do the job in a meaningful way.” Budget cuts are, of course, part of that and he also laments what he feels are poor social worker decisions about taking kids out of homes – a process he thinks is partly because the workers worry about being “second guessed.” 
The column includes some eye-popping stats: “As of today, [Nash] said, each of the court’s 20 full-time judges handles roughly 1,350 cases at any given time, well above the recommended maximum. Often, matters of grave consequence must be heard and decided in minutes, even when they call for careful deliberation. A typical day’s calendar for a Dependency Court judge might include deciding how much and what type of medication to authorize for a child; whether to remove children from homes after allegations of neglect or abuse; and whether to place them in the hands of strangers or relatives, or return them to shaky parents.”
What will be more difficult to track is what happens to the court now that access to justice has been curtailed to the point that we’re bound to have more homeless, more bench warrants and more trouble hitting homes. You can read the column here and you can follow the writer on Twitter: @newton jim. 

L.A. Co. Layoffs Came Despite Increased Funding

In the days leading up to layoffs in the Los Angeles County Superior Courts, some labor leaders wondered why the cutbacks were coming despite increased state funding and a new formula that would ensure that $60 million would not only go directly to trial courts, but be distributed under a formula that will likely send a higher percentage of that money to L.A. County.
Alex Matthews at the Capitol Weekly, a government-focused newspaper, has a good story that includes significant background. He cites officials noting that “… some counties, such as San Diego, Santa Clara, Orange County, and San Francisco had received more money than was necessary for their workload in the past and will therefore lose some money under the new allocation methodology. Others that have been particularly affected by budget cuts, such as Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Fresno, Riverside, and San Joaquin, will receive more.”

San Diego County Documents Part Of Courts Crisis

The San Diego County Bar Association is pushing its new “State of the Judiciary” report that outlines just how dismal things are becoming despite about $60 million in “reinstated” funding from the just-passed state budget. The San Diego NBC affiliate has a good report citing attorney Jon R. Williams, president-elect of the Association, as saying “… this isn’t just a lawyer issue. This is an issue that affects public safety. It affects businesses, and it affects families. It’s an issue that everybody should be concerned with.”
The report notes that Williams was the lead author of a just-released SDCBA study titled “State of the Judiciary in San Diego County” that reaffirms the notion that “justice delayed is justice denied.” It’s worth noting that part of the report discussion echoes concerns about funding sources, and NBC reported it this way: “All the people served by the courts don’t recognize themselves as a constituency, and thus don’t rise up to lobby or protest like other ‘special interests’. And, the judicial branch of government doesn’t have fundraising powers.”
The report can be seen as a sort of re-boot as political discussion of the courts shifts from the state budget to longer-term strategies, especially how deal with the anticipated social uproar once the budget cuts result in increased domestic violence, juvenile crime increases and other outcomes. See the NBC report here.

Iranian TV News Still Covering Court Cuts

Click here to watch the Press TV report about California courts budget cuts.

Click here to watch the Press TV report about California courts budget cuts.

While most of the state’s TV journalists have adopted the “California budget miracle deal” narrative, at least one international news service has created a fairly detailed report with focus on how continuing cutbacks impact poor and handicapped citizens. The Tehran-based Press TV uses extensive (by TV news standards) video of a street protest at downtown’s Stanley Mosk Courthouse and David Sapp, an ACLU spokesperson, comments on-air.
Sapp notes that it’s actually illegal not to provide access to justice for the handicapped. The Press TV report is also among the few to predict increases in bench warrants and vehicle seizures because people will not be able to access the court system.

You can see the report (it’s in English) here.  

Court Takes Beatings As State Passes Budget

As statewide media heralds a new state budget that leaves California’s top judicial administrator saying she’s “encouraged,” the Los Angeles County civil court system joins others in living the old t-shirt saying: “The beatings will continue until moral improves.” Last Friday, the Los Angeles Superior Court moved to eliminate 511 more positions and 177 people lost their jobs while139 people were demoted to previously held positions, according to many accounts. An additional 223 people were reassigned to new locations.
General-interest media is focused on other budget cuts, but the legal community is balking at the idea that an absence of deeper cuts is good news. “They’re cutting into the bone, not just the fat,” said Richard Burdge, the president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and owner of The Burdge Law Firm in Los Angeles, in a Legal Newsline report.
The report also notes that the civil court cuts are creating odd political partnerships. The story quotes both Tom Scott, executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, and Brian Kabateck, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California. Says Scott: “We’re closing courts. We’re cutting court systems back. Civil is taking a backseat to criminal. It’s one of the few issues where trial lawyers and groups like mine agree – funding of the courts is a serious problem.

Read the report here.

‘Hell Week’ Ends With Hundreds Of Friday Firings

One employee at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse called this “hell week” as hundreds of Los Angeles Superior Court workers braced for layoffs. The L.A. Daily News reported that 539 employees will be impacted, and broke the number down: “The move will result in 177 layoffs, 139 workers who will be demoted with pay cuts, 223 who will be transferred to new work locations and some positions that will remain unfilled, a court official said.”
Mary Hearn, a court spokesperson, told the newspaper that “… there will be delays in getting hearing dates and there will be much longer lines… we have prided ourselves on being the largest neighborhood court ever in a county the size of Los Angeles County, because no matter where you lived you didn’t have to go far if you had court business to attend to. But with the closure of these court houses … we’ve also had to reorganize the work because now we’re providing service in fewer locations than before.”
She also singled out eviction cases and small claims courts as examples of court service cuts. Evictions, called “unlawful detainer cases,” that have been heard in 26 courthouses will be heard in only five. Small claims cases went from 26 sites to two sites.
You can read Kevin Smith’s excellent Daily News story here.  

Balanced budget? ‘Too little, to late’ for L.A. County court


While the Governor and legislators celebrate their $96.4 billion budget deal, workers at L.A. County court are waiting for their pink slips.

According to an L.A. Times story today: “The Los Angeles County Superior Court plans to eliminate more than 500 jobs by the end of the week in a sweeping cost-cutting plan to close a projected $85-million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.” The story also includes a breakdown of the layoffs.

Photo credit: Al Seib/L.A. Times as part of the L.A. Times coverage of the L.A. Court layoff story

Photo credit: Al Seib/L.A. Times as part of the L.A. Times coverage of the L.A. County Court layoff story

As part of his deal with legislators, the governor agreed to restore $63 million to the courts in the budget that will take effect July 1– well short of the $100 million the Legislature wanted.

“We are glad that restoration of trial court funding has begun,” said L.A. County Superior Court presiding judge, David Wesley, 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.”

Read the full story here.

Budget deal reached, but with compromises

Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez have reached a deal. The full Senate and Assembly must approve the budget by a midnight Saturday deadline.

The deal does not come without compromises. The Mercury News reports that legislative budget committee chair Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and vice chair Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, both said at a legislative budget committee meeting late Monday that they agreed to Brown’s lower financial estimate “to reach a deal.”

“As all budgets are acts of compromise, this budget would be no exception,” Leno was quoted as saying in the story.

One of the compromises has hit the judicial budget. According to the story, $63 million will fund trial courts, less than the $100 million the Legislature wanted.

Read the Mercury News story here.