LA Times Prints Response to their Editorial Supporting Court Construction

I posted a blog post about the LA Times writing an editorial in favor of not diverting funds from the court construction funds. In response, the LA Times published a response by Arnella Sims. I’m reprinting the letter to the editor in its entirety.

Keep California’s courts open
Failure to divert available funds to avoid layoffs and closures would have catastrophic effects on our economy.
February 11, 2010|By Arnella Sims

Economists, law enforcement officials and political and business leaders all agree: A healthy economy and our civil society depend on having timely, reliable access to our justice system. But you wouldn’t know it reading The Times’ Feb. 10 editorial, “Rebuilding California’s courts.”

It’s true that California’s aging courts infrastructure must be upgraded, which is exactly why it makes no sense to lay off 30% of Los Angeles’ court employees, who collect parking tickets, criminal fines and other fees — in other words, dollars that are necessary to retrofit aging and unsafe courthouses. Nor does it make sense to close courthouses while constructing new halls of justice in an effort to improve public access.

The Administrative Office of the Courts, or AOC — which oversees court operations statewide — has already forced closures of Los Angeles County courts one day each month. Anyone who has visited a courthouse knows the impact these closures have had on our system of justice, with longer wait times and more crowded courtrooms. Consequently, children in foster care, victims of domestic violence and other crimes, families trying to adopt children and others who rely on timely resolution of their cases are denied the justice they deserve. Imagine how much worse the impact will be when one-third of court workers and 30% of courtrooms operating now are gone.

Closing about 180 Los Angeles county courtrooms over the next few years, which the budget cuts require, would have a devastating effect on our local economy and impact even those who never set foot in a courtroom. A Dec. 2009 study by a local economic research firm found that if court closures continue, 150,000 people could lose their jobs and the state would suffer from $30 billion in lost economic activity.

Without the certainty that cases will be resolved in a timely manner, businesses that rely on our courts don’t have the assurance they need to operate normally. Litigation delays tie up economic resources. Whether a dispute involves a payment, land development or another matter, the financial and other assets in question cannot be put to use when caseloads pile up and resolutions are delayed. This is the last thing we need with unemployment in Los Angeles County already sky high and our families and businesses still facing economic uncertainty.

7 responses to “LA Times Prints Response to their Editorial Supporting Court Construction

  1. Amen Ms. Sims!

  2. I keep reading how the AOC is working with the construction unions about protecting construction jobs, but why are they not working with the unions of the employees of the judiciary? One would think they would/should be invested in trying to keep court employee jobs too. Last I heard, the AOC has not had any conversations with SEIU, AFSCME or CWA on anything. Maybe if they actually talked to the employee organizations they might find there could be some middle ground to be found. I guess they view the trial court employees and their unions as enemies and the contruction trade unions as their allies. How perverse…..Bravo Ms. Sims! I am glad you spoke up!

    • I believe the answer to your question is that the AOC does not have authority to negotiate with those unions unless the courts ask them to. That fact often (conveniently) gets omitted by those claiming that the trial courts no longer have any autonomy. I guess the people have to choose — do they want the AOC working with unions on behalf of courts, or do they want the 58 courts doing it themselves? I know what MY answer is… but then again, I’ve experienced first hand over the years many (not all) of the 58 different flavors of courts and customer service (or lack thereof) to be found across the state.

  3. February 16, in an L.A. Times followup article “State Judges Oppose Fund-Diversion Plan,” to a previous editorial, Chief Justice George calls Los Angeles County Presiding Judge Tim McCoy, “misguided” and references McCoy’s concerns with impending layoffs and court closures as a “chicken little approach.” Regarding a study that McCoy has cited, the Chief commented, “If you want to prove that the moon is made out of blue cheese, you’ll find somebody that will write you a report.” The Chief allows that McCoy, “is somebody who I like as a person but …”

    In the earlier ,Wednesday, February 10, editorial “Rebuilding the courts,” the Times editor referred to McCoy and George as “the most polite of disputants.” The most recent Time’s article that carries some of George’s actual quotes makes me wonder how polite George really is when he is faced with a Judge who speaks with a different voice.

    Earlier comments by George calling AOC critics “shrill and uninformed” have been widely reported and give us some clue as to how the Chief responds to legitimate judicial branch concerns when he has lost control of the debate.

    The “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” playground ditty, doesn’t ring true when it is the Chief Justice doing the name calling.

    I can imagine the glee from trial lawyers everywhere, who now have a useful quote from the Chief which appears to debunk the authenticity of the opinions of experts.

    “As the Chief Justice of our very own California Supreme Court has declared, ‘If you want to prove that the moon is made out of blue cheese, you’ll find somebody that will write you a report.’ Consider this when you evaluate the People’s/Defense expert testimony. ” (Areas subject to expert reports/testimony include DNA, fingerprint analysis, toxicology, and ballistics to name a few.) Notwithstanding obvious evidentiary limitations, the Chief’s statement provides potential ammunition for any attorney who wants to attack an expert opinion offered by the other side. Prosecutors in particular frequently depend on expert witness testimony to prove their cases.

    The discourse is not an “adolescent” exchange as the concerned Time’s editor opined, but rather cuts to the heart of the financial crisis facing California Courts. The Chief’s very own rhetoric may come back to haunt him.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      More obsurd – that the AOC themselves is the judicial branch leader in ‘comissioning studies’.

      Don’t believe for a second that the AOC does not routinely engage in commissioning similar reports or studies (with foregone conclusions) or those that support favored constituencies or justice partners. I’d call that a haunting. Me Kettle, you pot. Let’s have a duel of studies.

  4. Judge-Dredd, glad to see your commentary back on here. Certainly, livens up the dialogue. On the employee piece above. I didn’t mean collective bargaining. I was talking about discussions regarding the overall budget situation and that the AOC should invest some time in finding some middle ground with the employees who actually work in the judiciary. Failing to do so doesn’t help our collective situation.