Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles McCoy got a big boost of support today for his plan of redirecting court construction funds back to courts for day-to-day operations of trial courts with an opinion piece printed in this morning’s Daily Journal written by Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Mayor Villaraigosa lays out the all the unfortunate details we’ve come to understand of the crisis faced by Los Angeles Superior Court. Forced closures of nine courthouses resulting in 180 closed courtrooms and planned layoffs of 1,800 court employees resulting in a 34% deduction of the court workforce.
The mayor rightly points out that if the doomsday scenario described above pans out, the citizens of Los Angeles will pay the ultimate price.
And because more and more lawsuits are being filed, including many related to the current economic crisis, the courts will rapidly clog up, and long delays extending out not just months, but years, will occur. Justice will not only be delayed; in many cases it will be effectively denied.
And then Mayor Villaraigosa comes out swinging strong for redirecting court construction funds.
This tragedy need not happen. If we set priorities straight, and make access to justice a top priority, as it must always be, we can avoid this.
About $83 million is presently collected in Los Angeles ($280 million statewide) from certain fees and fines created to support future new state courthouse construction under SB 1407, which authorizes the future sale of $5 billion in construction revenue bonds. The Governor and Legislature should seriously consider temporarily redirecting all or part of that revenue stream to keep our existing courtrooms operating. All options should be considered.
It doesn’t make sense to urgently build new courthouses when courtrooms are being closed for lack of adequate funding. If the court’s workforce is cut 34 percent for lack of funding, who will run the new courthouses when they are eventually built? Just as families and businesses across the country have delayed plans for remodeling or new construction, our courts should do the same. Once we are on the other side of the current recession, the income stream can be put back to work on construction projects and the bonds sold.
I urge the Governor and Legislature to seriously consider temporarily redirecting all or part of the courthouse construction revenue stream to keep our current courtrooms operational. This will not only save nearly 1,400 jobs here in Los Angeles, it would also serve the greater good of Angelenos and preserve justice in our city. Once we are on the other side of the current recession, the income stream can be put back to work on the construction projects and bonds sold.
New and renovated courthouses are important, but justice comes first.