Scales of Justice

Lori Fowler, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/15/2013 01:28:54 PM PST

After years of dealing with the chopping block, court systems throughout California would be spared additional cuts under Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

That’s good, local court officials say, because the courts cannot afford any more chipping away at their budgets.

In November, Los Angeles Superior Court proposed a restructuring plan that calls for 10 of its courthouses to close this year. San Bernardino Superior Court has closed its Chino courthouse and will close the Barstow and Needles courthouses later this year.

“Despite the huge cuts already imposed, we have implemented significant operating efficiencies that have allowed us to keep intact our ability to provide access to justice,” said David S. Wesley, the presiding judge of Los Angeles Superior Court. “But we have run out of options.”

Brown’s budget proposal would secure about $3.1 billion in the 2013-14 budget for the state’s court system, from its 58 trial courts to the California Supreme Court.

The budget, which was released Thursday, does propose draining $200 million from the judiciary by delaying courthouse construction projects.

About $1.2 billion has already been slashed from the judicial branch over the past few years.

Any more cuts would be devastating for local court systems, court officials said.

Under the restructuring plan introduced in November, Los Angeles County Superior Court services could decrease dramatically with 26 small-claims locations being reduced to six, 24 courts that hear collection cases going to two and personal injury locations declining from 12 to one.

“We’re beyond trimming fat,” said Mary Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Superior Court. “That happened a long time ago.”

She likened the cuts so far to an old saying – “still using a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer.”

“July 1 is when we start using the sledgehammer,” Hearn said of the date the county’s anticipated court closures will go into affect.

Even with those cuts, a shortfall of $85 million remains for the Los Angeles Superior Court system.

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