Category Archives: Court Closures

Court Closures: And Then There Was One

It’s the last court closure that California courts will see for some time.  So, was it worth it all?  Did the AOC get everything it expected out of it?  Or does the fact that we aren’t seeing a repeat of court closures in the next fiscal year simply an indication that the AOC got the message that court closures were incredibly unpopular with the public?  Share your thoughts on the whole business in the comments section.

San Francisco Superior Court Lays Off Layoff Notices

San Francisco Superior Court employees got a bit of good news late this afternoon when current CEO Claire Williams sent out an email announcing that layoffs would not be happening. In fact, my followers of Themis in SF Superior tell me that the court planned on beginning on passing out layoff notices beginning tomorrow.

Here’s a bit from the email that Ms. Williams sent out.

Last week we received positive news on two fronts in Sacramento. On Friday Governor Schwarzenegger announced his revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor’s budget restored $100 million in state funding for the judicial branch. The other new budget information we have is that the AOC is close to wrapping up negotiations with key state lawmakers on a revenue package that would deliver $230 million to the judicial branch. Between the governor’s revised budget and the new judicial branch funding package from the legislature, we have enough confidence now in the proposals that leads us to the decision not to issue layoff notices as planned this week.

While it is true that the uncertainty over the ultimate outcome of these solutions remains, we are proceeding with the benefit of the best information available to us from the AOC. It is essential over the subsequent weeks that judicial branch leaders continue to work with the governor, state lawmakers, justice partners and other stakeholders to secure the passage of these funding solutions for the courts.

LA Mayor Villaraigosa: Redirect Court Construction Funds

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.

Court Closures: And Then There Were Two

Yes, it’s that time of the month when the courts close its doors. Now listen, I’m not delusional in the least. I’m fully aware that just as there are many people who disliked the court closures, there are also a great many people who’ve now become accustomed to the idea of an “unofficial holiday” once a month they actually look forward to it. Even if it means it’s an unpaid one. So, let’s ask the question. Are you going to miss the court closures? Do you think there was some actual benefit to the courts being closed? Do you want to see them resume in the next fiscal year? Inquiring minds want to know as that tabloid’s catch phrase once said.

And yes, I’m still here. Battling a serious combination of allergies and a cold that has driven me to distraction. Regular posting to resume soon.

And Whistle-Blower Protection for All…(Court Employees)

Seems like Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach is seeking to expand the whistle-blower protections of her bill to cover not only AOC employees but ALL court employees.  According to Cheryl Miller’s article in the Recorder this morning, that would mean a w

For weeks, a political detente has surrounded legislation that would extend whistle-blower protections to Administrative Office of the Courts employees. The AOC wasn’t
thrilled with the bill, but leaders accepted it. Judges were OK with it and, of course, most AOC workers seemed to think it was nifty.

That all changed last week when the bill’s primary author, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, expanded her measure to cover all judicial branch employees — from the courthouse janitor to the Supreme Court clerk — who sound the alarm about workplace wrongdoing.

“Whistle-blower protection isn’t just about protecting employees, it’s about protecting taxpayers and tax dollars,” Lowenthal said Friday. “And we want to protect as many of those as we can. Especially now.”

The idea of expanding the whistle-blower protections of this new bill would probably be welcomed by court employees. Judges however, didn’t seem so crazy about the idea.

The California Judges Association “is greatly concerned with the notion of applying whistle-blower statutes to the trial courts without first doing extensive study,” said CJA President Michael Vicencia.

The amended legislation specifically exempts judges. But they’re never keen on rules that could challenge their courtroom authority. What if, they say, a clerk tells a reporter that a judge’s rulings consistently discriminate against women? The furious judge complains to the court administrator, who in turn disciplines the clerk. Can the clerk then claim whistle-blower retaliation by the administrator? Egregious violators can be fined up to $10,000 and face up to a year in jail.

“We’re going to have to look at this bill very, very carefully,” Vicencia said. “This appears to be fraught with many, many unintended consequences.”

But the idea of expanding the bill’s protections weren’t the only things that upset the judges. The second part of the article dealt with the fact that the AOC had sent out draft rules to all courts regarding the issue of court closures. The AOC basically wanted uniform rules throughout the state that would cover those courts that continued court closures in the next fiscal year. And although the AOC may have believed their “directives and guidelines” to courts were meant with good intentions, some presiding judges believed otherwise viewing the AOC as meddling in their affairs.

“This is exactly why judges and courts around the state increasingly object to the imperial trappings, budget and attitude of the AOC,” Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Steve White roared in a letter of complaint. The draft, he wrote, “appears to be simply another bureaucratic power grab.”

In a separate letter, Los Angeles County Superior Court Counsel Frederick Bennett called the proposed rules “inconsistent with statute and … unlawful.”

And Kim Dunning, the presiding judge of Orange County Superior Court, wrote that the AOC has no business dictating local court hours. “A trial court’s decision to make some calendars lighter on some days is completely a local matter,” Dunning wrote.

Yesh! Tell us how you really feel. I must say, it’s always refreshing to see PJs stick it to the AOC. Thanks to the negative response to the AOC’s closure guidelines they’ve sent the whole thing back to the drawing board. No doubt to be retuned and refined by some temporary employee recently added to the growing AOC staff…oh, did I say that out loud?

California Courts Suffer Cuts In Staff…Meanwhile, at AOC Death Star Headquarters

In a bit of news that should come as NO surprise to anyone who has been following the AOC these past couple years, Amy Yarbrough of the Daily Journal reported in an article today that the AOC’s budget for temporary employees has soared in the middle of one of the worst financial crises that the California superior courts have ever faced.

While courts up and down the state have or are planning to lay off regular staff employees, the AOC has been on a hiring spree for the past two years spending well over a million dollars to two temp agencies.

From the article.

According to records provided by the State Controller’s Office, the AOC paid two staffing agencies, Wollborg Michelson and AppleOne, $843,674 in 2006. By 2008, well into the economic downturn, payments peaked at $1.37 million.

The agency’s spending on temporary workers dipped last year to $1.29 million, records show, but that figure is still 53 percent higher than in 2006. More than 20 of the temporary staffers have worked at the AOC since July, according to an internal agency document; one has been on the payroll for about a year.

Of course if you’ve been following this blog since its inception then you’ll know that I’ve touched on this issue of the AOC continuing to hire temporary employees while claiming to have a hiring freeze. Then the AOC eventually hired some of those temporary employees and placed them in job positions that nobody had a clue about or placed them into positions that other AOC employees said they were unqualified for.

Again, a portion from this morning’s article.

The AOC said in September that some of the new permanent staffers were needed because the agency was taking over responsibility of courthouses in the 52 counties, and building new facilities to replace dilapidated ones. AOC officials said the freeze included an exemption allowing for the hiring of positions deemed critical.

The internal AOC document indicates that in recent months, the agency has assigned six temporary workers to the Office of Court Construction and Management, the division responsible for the inherited courthouses and construction projects. The rest have been stationed throughout the agency, including nine in the Finance Department and nine more in Human Resources.

Needless to say this article does nothing to repair the lack of faith or trust that court employees have for the AOC. What goes for the rest of the state in terms of layoffs, furloughs, and slashed wages doesn’t necessarily go for the AOC which appears to change the rules whenever it feels it’s appropriate for its own needs.

AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa defended the use of temporary workers, saying the extra bodies were needed to continue important projects.

“The AOC saves money by using such workers as needed to continue work on badly needed projects even in light of the current freeze on hiring except in critical positions,” he said.

Important projects? Whatever could those “important projects be?” And why should the AOC’s “badly needed projects” be any more important than the badly needed projects and increased work loads that all of the courts have had to suffer since the inception of court closures and furloughs?

Isn’t it, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?” Except in this case everything for the AOC is good and everyone else’s goose is cooked.

Sinking Economy Drags Courts Down with It

From the Contra Costa Times.

From the outside, the local courthouse may bring to mind images of “Law and Order” and “Perry Mason” – television dramas in which the participants generally behave with at least a modicum of decorum.

But in real life, all hell is breaking loose in Los Angeles County’s courtrooms.

Amid the flagging economy, judges have noticed a rise in shouting, brawls and other courtroom disturbances, according to the Superior Court’s 2010 annual report.

Click here to read more.

Los Angeles Lays Off Hundreds of Court Employees

For almost a year now Judge McCoy of Los Angeles Superior Court has been stating that if things didn’t improve financially for his court he would have no choice but to lay off hundreds of court staff and close courts.  He’s also been one of the more vocal proponents of having court construction funds redirected back to county courts to help them with their budget deficits and to prevent mass layoffs.

Now we find out today from the Daily Journal that Judge McCoy has done what he has said he’d have no choice but to do if things didn’t improve.

The Los Angeles Superior Court plans to issue pink slips to 329 employees today, amid a dispute with the state agency that oversees the courts, which maintains the layoffs are “unnecessary.”

The bulk of the layoffs will affect clerical assistants and court services assistants, according to a court spokesman. Among the possible cuts is the call center at Metropolitan Courthouse, which processes traffic tickets and handles up to 2,000 calls a day. Notified employees will be placed on administrative leave and paid until the end of March, but will not be reporting to their posts after today.

Court officials are also expected to announce the closure of more than 12 courtrooms throughout the county. They declined to provide further detail of which ones are facing closure until the announcement is made.

The cuts loom as the top official at the Administrative Office of the Courts, which has authority over the state’s trial courts, publicly questioned whether Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy’s decision to lay off employees was necessary.

The AOC and Justice George have, according to the article, taken Judge McCoy’s threats of layoffs and closing courts as a “Chicken Little approach.”  Well, if they thought this was Judge McCoy playing a game of chicken, he’s definitely called their bluff.

You can read more coverage on the layoffs by clicking the links below.

L.A. Superior court cuts 329 employees – SF Examiner

First wave of layoffs claims 50 employees from courthouses –

Local courts lay off more than 300 workers – Press Telegram

Los Angeles Superior Court announces layoffs and courtroom closures – 89.3 KPCC

L.A. Trial Courts Undergoing Mass Layoff – Courthouse News Service

Court Closures Get New Critic…Justice George

Nope.  You didn’t read that wrong.  While I, and everybody else it seems, was focused on Justice George’s comments about the ACJ in his speech before the legislature last week, what may have gotten lost in the hubbub was that Justice George apparently had also come out against court closures. At least that’s according to the Associated Press.

California’s chief justice says shutting down courthouses one day a month should no longer be considered an option for helping the state close its budget deficit.

Supreme Court Justice Ronald George said lawmakers should instead consider extending the temporary sales and personal income tax increases that took effect last year.

He addressed a joint session of the Assembly and Senate on Tuesday during his annual State of the Judiciary speech.

Yikes!  Not sure which part I’m surprised about.  The part that he came out against court closures or the part where he recommends extending tax increases.  If Californians were unhappy with his and the Judicial Council’s desicion to implement closures, something tells me they aren’t going to be too thrilled with his suggestion of extending taxes either.

The funny thing is I reread his speech and couldn’t find anywhere in it where he suggested he was against court closures or that he suggested extending tax increases.  But I’m happy to be proven wrong if anyone else can find it.

And wait a minute…first you were for court closures and now you’re against them?  Hmmm…why does that make me think of this?

Layoffs at Contra Costa Superior Court

MARTINEZ — Expect cases to move more slowly through Contra Costa County Superior Court as a result of layoff notices sent out to 16 court workers this week.

The layoff move — the first targeting the court’s clerical workers — is the latest action by the state-funded Contra Costa County court to try to manage a $7.4 million budget deficit. The cuts make it impossible for the court to sustain current service levels, according to court spokeswoman Mimi Lyster.

“We expect further delays in processing and adjudicating cases,” Lyster said.

The court’s budget for 2009-10 is $68 million after state fiscal problems forced $7.4 million in cuts. The court did all it could to avoid laying off staff members, including using $4 million of its $8.5 million reserve fund, Lyster said. Over the past 18 months, the court has laid off four executives in administration and 39 temporary employees, and eliminated nine management and 11 staff positions left vacant by attrition. Managers have forgone pay increases, members of two unions will be paying more for their benefits, and workers are invited to volunteer for furlough days.

The remaining deficit stood at $1.9 million when 16 workers received notice Monday that their last day will be Feb. 25.

Click here to continue reading.