The Los Angeles Superior Court system announced today that it's laying off more than 300 employees and closing 17 courtrooms. It's the system's latest attempt to deal with a budget crisis.
The court system is grappling with a budget deficit of $79 million in fiscal year 2009-10. Presiding Judge Charles "Tim" McCoy, Jr. announced the cutbacks in a courtroom the system closed months ago to save money.
"Today is a sad day for the employees of this court, and it is a dark day for justice in Los Angeles," McCoy said.
Across the county, the court trimmed 329 positions: clerks, supervisors, and court reporters. The 17 closed courtrooms handled criminal, family and civil law, along with more complex cases. McCoy said the workers who remain — and anyone who uses the courts — will face a long list of inconveniences.
"Growing case backlogs, longer lines at filing windows and at service counters, delays in processing judgments, delays in child support determinations and custody decisions."
The L.A. Superior Court system expects as many as 500 more layoffs by September. The number of closed courtrooms could grow to 50 across the county. As McCoy described the potential budget fallout, a few other judges listened in the jury box behind him. Judge Marjorie Steinberg supervises the family law departments in L.A. County. She said her departments are losing mental health professionals who help parents work out their disputes before they go to court.
"So you can imagine how tough that would be on a family, and on the children, whose parents are fighting," Steinberg said.
Outside the Stanley Mosk Memorial Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, court services assistant Douglas Canada said the system had let three of his colleagues go.
"The feeling is horrible because any day you feel like you could be next," Canada said. "We're losing people and so that means that we have to do extra work for the people that we're losing."
Presiding Judge Charles McCoy said state lawmakers could prevent some layoffs by temporarily redirecting money for new courthouse construction and new computer systems. Court employee Douglas Canada agreed.
"I mean you're really thinking about building a new building when you're losing jobs?" he asked rhetorically. "People are suffering out there. Now if you're losing more jobs, people are not going to have money to pay for their mortgages and it's a trickle down effect to everybody."
The Los Angeles Superior Court System employs more than 5000 people. By autumn, that workforce could be 20 percent smaller than it is was at the beginning of this year.