For a year, the Los Angeles Superior Court has imposed furlough days, unpaid days off for most staff, on the third Wednesday of each month. Today is the last scheduled furlough day.
The Los Angeles County Superior Court system is the largest trial court in California. Presiding Judge Charles "Tim" McCoy says about 100,000 people use it each day. That’s meant the monthly furloughs have delayed absolutely everything.
"From traffic matters to family law matters, probate matters, civil cases, small claims," says McCoy. "The big complex cases… and over in criminal, even there, while there’s a right to a speedy trial, there’s been a slow down in that system as well."
McCoy says one closed weekday a month translates into two weeks of work lost in the court system. While the furlough days have saved the court more than $13 million, he says the people who need the courts have paid the price. Judicial assistant Cher Mason says court employees have, too.
"I think people were thinking that it wouldn’t be a big deal because it’s only one day, but it really is, in the sense that that furlough came along with layoffs," she says.
Four months ago the court laid off 329 people. Almost 160 more retired or moved on without replacements. That equals about 10 percent of the staff. Mason says it didn’t take long for the workers who remained to feel the loss.
"It really hit us around mid to the end of April, with delays in files getting to the courtroom, attorneys showing up and we don’t why they’re in the courtroom because the paperwork hasn’t made it to us yet."
On one furlough Wednesday, when she showed up to protest the staff cuts, Mason recalls meeting a frustrated woman.
"She was here regarding custody of her children only to find out the courthouse was closed," said Mason.
On most furlough days, Mason ran personal errands. She’s a single mother of one child in high school and one in college. It’s been hard for her to take more than the third Wednesdays off because the courts are so short staffed. So she knows that many of her colleagues will miss the furlough days, but they won’t miss losing a day’s pay each month.
Another judicial assistant, Peter Ontiveros says he's one of them.
"It’s tough financially, but having a day in the middle of the week when you have small kids, is a plus," he says. "Disneyland is dead on a Wednesday, in May and March. It’s just the truth."
Ontiveros understands another truth very well: the furlough days helped the court system hang onto 200 jobs for another year. One of them could have been his.