June 30, 2012 4:00 PM
Tomoya Shimura, Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE • San Bernardino County Superior Court is seeking ways to deal with massive cuts in state funding, which could lead to layoffs and delays in the already jammed Victorville courthouse.

Under the proposed state budget, California Superior Courts in San Bernardino County could see a projected $21 million in cuts for the fiscal year beginning Sunday. That’s nearly 20 percent of their 2011-2012 budget, according to San Bernardino County Court Executive Officer Stephen Nash.

The county courts have already suffered a $6.1 million cut from the 2010-2011 fiscal year and conducted hiring freeze and one-day furlough per month, he said.

“It’s just a series of cuts and now it’s getting deeper and deeper,” Nash said.

Nash said a committee of judges is considering various options to reduce costs, including layoffs and cutting benefits. The courts are spending more than 80 percent of their budget on staff.

Another option is to close courthouses in Barstow and other sites. Although nothing has been determined yet, the Victorville courthouse is too big and essential for the High Desert area to close, Nash said.

But if Barstow court closes, cases there are likely to be sent to Victorville, where one out of every three civil cases is sent to San Bernardino to relieve the backlog.

Local attorney Stanley Hodge said criminal defendants and victims will have to wait longer to resolve their cases if Victorville adds caseload and loses some court staff.

Each San Bernardino County judge on average has the second highest caseload in California behind Imperial County, according to the 2010 Court Statistics Report.

“This is all news to me. I didn’t know it was that bad,” Hodge said about the budget issue. “There are a lot of cops out there doing their job and people get arrested and their cases have to be dealt with.”

Jimmy Mettias, who handles criminal and civil matters, said it already takes more than three months to get a hearing in Victorville’s family court. Each family court judge in Victorville has 30 to 60 cases per day, according to attorneys.

He worries that people are going to start taking child custody issues into their own hands.

“This place is already crowded,” Mettias said. “It’s really frustrating for our clients.”

Los Angeles County Superior Court has announced to lay off 157 employees, cut salaries and close courtrooms due to the state fund reduction.

“I think some people may think it’s easy to make these decisions, but it’s really hard,” Nash said. “The level of cuts is really painful.”

Daily Press Reporter Katie Lucia contributed to this report.

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