Courts throughout Riverside County are facing budget cuts while Corona and Palm Springs are losing judges and closing courtrooms in an effort to compensate for a loss in state funding.
BY LESLIE PARRILLA
Published: 29 June 2012 06:35 PM
Hefty state budget cuts have caused Inland officials to close courtrooms, scramble to keep cases moving and prompted Riverside County to cut a handful of retired judges and employees to save millions of dollars.
Five assigned judges — retired jurists who assist by hearing cases — are being let go with the new fiscal year that began Sunday, July 1. Three are in Corona and two in Palm Springs. The move is part of a countywide effort to reduce assigned judges over the past several years, and save $2 million dollars in related expenses for support staff such as clerks, court reporters and bailiffs.
Criminal and civil cases being heard in Corona, and the jurors serving in them, will be transferred to Riverside. Palm Springs cases will move to Indio, said David Gutknecht, Riverside County Superior Court supervising management analyst.
How much the changes will slow cases or court operations is unknown, Riverside County Court Executive Officer Sherri Carter said.
“I think over the next few months, we’ll have to start gauging if we’re getting a backlog and getting cases to trial,” Carter said.
Riverside County Superior Court has been gradually reducing the number of assigned judges, which are paid by the state in counties that need extra help with their caseloads. Local courts must pay for these judges’ courtroom staff, which can cost millions.
Riverside County has relied heavily on assigned judges, using as many as 22 in 2008, before dropping to about nine. After the new cuts, that number is expected to drop to six or fewer.
Cuts to continue
Court officials say the reductions are not over, as the state prepares to dip into the reserves of local courts. The money is going into a statewide account to be redistributed to courts that need financial assistance.
Riverside County could see an unknown amount of that money returned.
But local court officials say the approach unfairly removes money they squirreled away into reserves to push through the economic downturn.
“What’s really unfortunate is that courts like Riverside that have worked so hard to be fiscally prudent and reduce our staff and expenses to save that money … are being penalized, because it’s going to be taken and shared with courts that have not saved like we have,” Carter said.
About $13 million remains in reserves after the county used around $10 million of its reserves last year. The county lost $10.6 million in state funding in 2011-12, leaving it with $69.2 million. It receives additional money from grants and various programs.
Next year, the county expects to lose an additional $16 million from the state.
To read entire story, click here.