Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Created: 03/16/2010 06:38:27 PM PDT

Beset by an unprecedented $79 million shortfall, Los Angeles County Superior Court officials on Tuesday announced 329 layoffs and the closure of 17 courtrooms.

Presiding Judge Charles W. “Tim” McCoy Jr. said another 1,800 layoffs are possible – 34 percent of the court workforce – and 180 courtrooms and nine courthouses could be shuttered by 2013 if the system doesn’t get more state funding.

The court’s the East district – which includes the courthouses in Pomona, West Covina and El Monte – will lose 16 positions, 12 through layoffs.

Layoff numbers for individual courthouses could not be separated, said Allan Parachini, public information director for the Los Angeles Superior Court.

The Pomona courthouses would not be effected by courtroom closures, for now, Parachini said.

The cuts are expected to make the already overwhelmed court system even more clogged, with cases that take longer and increased pressure to release prisoners early to make way for those still facing trial.

“Sadly, this means more courtroom closures downtown and around the county, increasing delays in access to justice, growing case backlogs, longer lines at filing windows and service counters, delays in processing judgments, delays in child support determinations and custody decisions,” McCoy said.

Los Angeles resident Sandra Barajas, a 32-year-old social worker, said she expects the layoffs and courtroom closures will delay her divorce case.

“I think it’s a terrible loss,” Barajas said. “It’s really going to impact me, as well as my kids.”

As a result of the state budget crisis, McCoy said another 500 employees will be laid off and 50 more courtrooms shut down by September, including those that handle criminal, family law, general civil, limited civil, complex litigation and small claims case loads.

The additional 500 layoffs don’t include 156 voluntary departures through attrition projected this fiscal year.

By September, McCoy expects the 5,400-employee court system to have lost about 1,000 employees through layoffs and attrition, a 20 percent reduction.

“For the more than 100,000 Angelenos who use the courts each day, these cuts will be devastating as they face even longer and dangerous delays in the justice system,” said court clerk Cher Mason.

Similar cuts are taking place at courthouses statewide.

The last time the Los Angeles Superior Court made major cuts was in 2002, when a $57 million deficit forced it to lay off 150 employees and close courthouses in Culver City, Monrovia and South Gate.

The layoffs and courtroom closures come as Sheriff Lee Baca is cutting $128 million from his budget through overtime reductions and releasing hundreds of nonviolent offenders from the county’s jail system.

“The sheriff is constantly dealing with an overpopulation problem in his jails,” Espinoza said. “What contributes to that is the number of inmates awaiting trial. Once they have been tried and convicted, then they can be sentenced either locally or to state prison, which frees up more beds for people who are sentenced prisoners.”

One of the facilities closed Tuesday was a criminal courtroom at the San Fernando Courthouse, Parachini said.

“What is going to happen to the criminal caseload in San Fernando remains to be seen,” Parachini said.

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