San Joaquin Small Claims Court Re-Opens

Like many counties, including Los Angeles, the San Joaquin County Superior Court laid off workers and closed courtrooms in anticipation of budget cuts. Unlike many counties, including Los Angeles, that system is no re-hiring some of those workers and re-opening courtrooms. In particular, the county is resuming Small Claims Court, which was entirely stopped in the face of budget shortfalls. 
Presiding Judge Dave Warner told the Stockton Record newspaper that “… they should have never stopped to start with, but at some point, when you run out of money, something’s got to give.” The paper also reported that “… the court also is in the process of rehiring 17 staff members who had been laid off during recent recessionary years. Since 2011, the court had reduced its staff by 55 positions.”

The first task? Dealing with 1,200 cases that have been filed but shelved because there was no court. Read the Record’s report here.

Next Battle For Court Workers: Outsourcing

Now that the dreaded courthouse layoffs have become the new reality, another issue is inching toward center stage for the justice system: outsourcing. The legislature seems ready to limit trial court outsourcing, but opposition is mounting against legislation that would require court managers to actually show promised savings. Lorn Kaye of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education laid out the pro-outsourcing argument at recently, noting that the courts are already outsourcing work ranging from child custody evaluations to security officers.

The new bill would “require specified standards to be met if a trial court intends to enter into a new contract” or extend existing contracts for “any services that are currently or customarily performed by that trial courts employees as of July 1, 2012.” Among other things, the court will have to “clearly demonstrate” actual overall cost savings. See the bill here.

The bill, says Kaye, has already passed the house and is headed for the California Senate. That means it could rumble about as the legislature passes last-minute bills in front of ending its current session this Friday (Sept. 13). Stay tuned. Read the argument that’s being made here.