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A view of the defendant's table in a courtroom closed due to budget cuts and layoffs, at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on March 16, 2009. Beset by an unprecedented budget crisis, the LA Superior Court, the largest trial court system in the US, laid off 329 employees and announced the closure of 17 courtrooms, with more of both expected in the future.
A coalition of legal aid groups is suing the Los Angeles County Superior Court and the state for allegedly denying minority and disabled residents access to justice to by shutting down courthouses.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court Wednesday afternoon. It’s aimed at a plan set to take effect Monday that would cut court tenant dispute services in 26 courthouses throughout the county.
On Monday, tenants seeking to fight eviction cases (also known as unlawful detainers) will be forced to file their cases at five “hub” courthouses. Cases already in progress at neighborhood courthouses will eventually be transferred to one of the hubs.
Those “hub” courthouses are located in downtown Los Angeles (Stanley Mosk), Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Antelope Valley (Michael D. Antonovich).
In the federal complaint (read below), the coalition claims the court closures “delivers a devastating blow” to vulnerable residents and “violates its obligation to make courts accessible to people with disabilities.”
In eviction cases, a tenant has five days to respond to an “unlawful detainer” filed by a landlord. If no response, the court finds in favor of the landlord by default. The same goes for tenants who don’t show up to court hearings.
“There will be no unlawful detainer courtrooms in the San Fernando Valley,” the complaint states. “Tenants from the Valley will be forced to travel to either Santa Monica or Pasadena – areas to which there is no adequate public transportation route from the Valley.”
Los Angeles Superior Court announced last fall that it would be cutting 10 courthouses by this summer in order to reach up to $85 million in budget savings.
Most recently, the LA court announced it’s closing the country’s largest alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program. That department works on small claims cases that generally can be resolved through settlement, before they reach a courtroom.
In her State of the Judiciary address Monday, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said California’s civil courts are facing a crisis.
“We can never know how many people – due to closures and delays – will not believe justice is for them,” she said. “We don’t know how many people will give up.”
The legal aid groups involved in the federal lawsuit against the LA court system are the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Disability Rights Legal Center, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Western Center on Law and Poverty.
They are asking for an injunction to stop the plan.