Category Archives: Court Closures

Judicial Wars: Judge and Union Leader Unite In Opposition to Redirecting Court Construction Funds

They say politics make for strange bedfellows.  Still, it was quite interesting to read an opinion piece printed in the Capitol Weekly in which the authors of the piece voiced their opposition to any plan to redirect court construction funds away from building new courts and back into the budgets of courts facing severe budget deficits.  What really made the piece interesting was that the authors were Judge Mary Ann O’Malley, presiding judge of Contra Costa County, and Bob Balgenorth who is listed as “president of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, which represents about 800,000 construction workers.”

If anyone thought naively that the fight over court construction funds was going to be a simple affair, they need only look at this article as a taste of what’s to come. The fight ahead is going to be incredibly emotional for both sides it has the possibility of turning into an ugly mud fight turning allies into enemies.

LA Superior Court Set to Lay Off Hundreds

This is not news for those who’ve been keeping tabs on the budget conditions of LA Superior Court.  LA Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles McCoy is set to begin laying of hundreds of court employees next month.  An article in this morning’s Daily Journal lists some pretty scary numbers.

  • 330 employees could be laid off beginning in March
  • The current budget deficit of $79 million is projected to balloon up to $139 million by 2013
  • Come September another 500 employees could be laid off
  • By 2013 if things don’t improve LA Superior could see 1,800 people laid off
  • 180 courtrooms could be closed over the next three years

And although Judge McCoy has been a proponent of redirecting court construction funds back into the trial court fund to keep courts running without layoffs or closures, that proposal has been met with as much opposition as the AOC can muster.  You know.  The kind of opposition the AOC would throw up if Jesus himself showed up and asked to see the AOC’s financial books.

One of the more interesting moments in the article comes when it’s revealed that the majority of the layoffs  may come from the court’s traffic division.  A division that processes millions of dollars for the court.

Court officials in Los Angeles said they have yet to determine which departments, courthouses or positions would be affected by layoffs, but a study it commissioned in December indicated that initial layoffs could hit employees in traffic-related services exclusively because of union agreements dictating that layoffs affect the most junior employees first.

“These employees tend to be concentrated in traffic-related services, meaning that any layoffs would come perhaps exclusively from operations relating to traffic,” said the report, compiled by Roy Weinstein and Stevan Porter of the Los Angeles-based economics research and consulting firm Micronomics. The move to cut 330 employees is expected to save the court roughly $3.4 million in partial-year savings. The fiscal year ends in June.

Traffic employees include judicial assistants, filing window clerks, cashiers, call center clerks and administrators. Junior employees are placed throughout the court system, not just traffic, said court spokeswoman Vania Stuelp.

Losses in traffic-related services, which generate millions of dollars annually in fines and fees for the state, could mean a delay in processing those revenues.

“A lot of the fines and fees collections comes through there and if that gets slowed down, it’s going to have an adverse effect on revenues,” Weinstein said.

In 2009-10, the court collected $212 million in traffic and criminal penalty assessments.

A slowdown in processing those fines and fees could be an “unintended consequence” of the layoffs, said Jack Kyser, founding economist of the Kyser Center for Economic Research at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

“It’s hard to say how much it would slow it down, but definitely, there would be a slowdown in the money coming in,” he said.

So if the AOC continues ahead with funding new court construction, then LA Superior is forced to lay off hundreds in a department that generates millions for it. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Then again, we are talking about the AOC.

San Mateo Court Employees Protest Court Closures

The rain broke briefly yesterday for protesting court workers who say they are getting hit from fiscal mismanagement on all sides and are calling on the state not to extend monthly closures that make work harder on other days.

Hoisting signs declaring “Save our Courts” and “Justice delayed is justice denied,” roughly 40 workers gathered outside the County Government Center in Redwood City to proclaim the state has the resources to stay open the third Wednesday of every month. Inside, the courts were locked and offices empty — a result of the once-monthly furlough day the state implemented last year to close the courts’ budget gap.

While the closures hit the workers’ pocketbooks, those gathered Wednesday spoke of the burden on families, children and anyone relying on the courts.

“When courts close the public suffers,” said Annette Ruiz-Vides, a fiscal office specialist in the courts’ accounting division.

Ruiz-Vides told of a domestic violence victim trying to get a restraining order. The first attempt, she was met with a closed court. The next, the line was so long due to the backlog the woman never got in.

Cynthia Howard, a legal office specialist with the Sheriff’s Office and SEIU Local 521 vice chair, said a man tried to self-surrender at the jail but was forced to leave because of backed up paperwork due to the closure.

Voting against these closures, is a vote for the battered women and the children, they said.

Click here to continue reading.

Court Closure Day: Open Thread

Tomorrow is the Judicial Council’s meeting in San Francisco.  I know plenty has been said about the matter in other comment sections but feel free to discuss it as well in this open thread.  For that matter, feel free to discuss anything else you’d like that’s AOC related in this thread.

Aside from the storms now landing on California’s shores today, it’s also court closure day in case you’ve forgotten.  We’re now at the halfway mark with today being the sixth court closure day.  Now we just have another six to look forward to since we know the Judicial Council will recommend that we proceed with the rest of the planned court closures for the fiscal year 2009/2010.

Justice George Sends New Year’s Letter to Judges

Justice George started the New Year by sending out a letter reminding his judicial colleagues of how the evil of court closures was a necessary evil. In the letter he defended the Judicial Council’s decision to close the courts once a month.

Our action in closing the courts for four days in 2009 reflects the judicial branch’s recognition of the economic downturn that has affected all Californians in both the public and the private sectors. As inconvenient as these court closures have been to the public, to the bar, to our employees, and to all of us, they were a rational response, among the available alternatives, to the budget reductions in the current fiscal year, and have allowed some courts to avoid or minimize the layoffs that might otherwise have been necessary. AOC staff are preparing a report on the impact of the closures that will be presented at a special session of the Judicial Council on January 21.

He also discussed how the Voluntary Salary Waiver program, a program in which judicial officers gave up a portion of their salaries to honor the furloughs suffered by court employees, had become “an example for all of state government during the fiscal crisis.

During my meeting with the Governor just two weeks ago, he expressed his admiration for judges who are participating in the voluntarily (sic) salary waiver program or otherwise donating a portion of their salaries to assist in funding trial and appellate court operations. Through your personal sacrifices, you have set an example for all of state government.

No mention was made of how some judges opted not to participate in the VSW program and instead donated a share of their salary contributions to outside charities or creating funds of their own within their own counties to assist county court employees.

You can read the justice’s entire letter by clicking here.

How Much Could Court Closures Supposedly Cost California’s Economy? How About $30 Billion?

Yes, you read that correctly. That’s $30 billion with a b. That’s how much of a hit California’s economy could take if court closures continue according to a Reuters article. The media organization was given a copy of a study commissioned by LA County which predicted the worst possible scenario:

The internal study, commissioned by Los Angeles County and made available to Reuters, posits a worst-case scenario of a 30%-per-year cut to state court budgets through 2013. That would slow economic recovery by trapping $15 billion of unresolved corporate deals and disputed assets in legal limbo, and have additional negative ramifications.

Many lawyers and judges agree that operating at current funding levels over the long term would damage already strained trial courts, slow economic growth and hurt business by raising legal costs and delaying settlements.

Those seeking the services of state courts could wind up facing other serious consequences besides the $30 billion price tag.

Roy Weinstein, an economist who co-authored the study, said, “The number of filings is increasing and the pipeline is getting smaller at the same time you are trying to push more through.” He added: “The value of the (assets) that are going to be stuck is increasing.”

The potential closure of one-third of Los Angeles County courtrooms would stretch the average wait for trial to 4-1/2 years from 16 months, resulting in the loss of $13 billion in legal industry revenue and 155,000 jobs, the study showed.

“There will be a reduced demand for legal services because people are going to realize that lawyers and their firms can’t resolve problems quickly enough,” Mr. Weinstein said.

And has been detailed numerous times on this blog and in other news articles, one of the main issues that will inspire heated debate will be the continued use of $5 billion in bond funding for court construction. On one side you have people who believe that that funding should be used to restore court services and budgets. On the other side you have people who believe that use of that funding will benefit the communities in which the new courthouses are built. We get to see both side argue their positions when the legislature convenes next month to discuss the budget for 2010-2011.

Dire Predictions for Courts in 2010

2010 hasn’t begun yet and already people are predicting some very dire things happening to state courts next year. In an article printed in today’s Daily Journal, judges from up and down the state shared their thoughts on how bad things are going to be. The consensus? If you thought this year was bad, be afraid about next year. Be very afraid.

Judge Michael Paul Vicencia

“We’re going to see another year of cuts,” said Judge Michael Paul Vicencia, president of the California Judges Association. “How bad that will be remains to be seen.”

“We’re into the bone now,” he said. “There’s no more fat left. Hopefully, some of last year’s cuts will be restored but if not, I think the leaders of our court here in Los Angeles and the leaders of all 58 trial courts are going to have to make some very difficult decisions.”

Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy

“Next year is going to be worse. The following years won’t be better. It’s going to take two to three years for the government to pull us out of it.”

Drew Soderborg, Legislative Analyst’s Office fiscal and policy analyst

“We have a $20 billion budget problem, even if our spending doesn’t change at all in the coming year,” he said. “It would be really unlikely that the Legislature would be in a position to restore funding for the courts unless they were able to find savings elsewhere within the courts.”

Court Closure Day: On the 16th Day of December the AOC Gave to Me

Closed courthouses

A public left knocking on closed courthouse doors

Increased caseload for all who work in court arena

Furloughs for court staff

A lack of transparency with AOC’s budget

Pinkslips for some court staff

Slashed trial court budgets

Hiring Freezes for all except the AOC

Raises for AOC staff members

An AOC staff that has increased 60% since 2003

A $2 billion computer software

A demoralized AOC staff

A rumored AOC witch hunt

A demoralized court staff throughout the state for that matter

Questionable hiring practices leading to AOC employees with questionable character

Accounting errors using AOC software and procedures

AOC whisteblowers shown their walking papers

No protection for AOC whistleblowers

Contracts assigned to unlicensed contractors

Expensive soirées at fancy shmancy high falutin places

A propaganda machine working overtime to save the AOC

AOC paid persons writing “unbiased” pro-AOC columns

And a chief justice who thinks critics are shrill and uninformed

I could have gone on AOCW readers but I didn’t want to completely bum you out during this holiday season.  But if you’ve got more to add, feel free to do so in the comments section.

California Judges Assn Sends Letter to Judicial Council Urging “Greater Oversight” of AOC Pay

Perhaps sensing that this was an issue they couldn’t let pass without comment, Judge Michael P. Vicencia of the California Judges Association emailed a statement to its members saying that it had sent a letter to the members of the Judicial Council urging them “to take a greater oversight role in the pay structure of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Judge Vicencia must have felt the letter to the Judicial Council was necessary since the Daily Journal broke the news last week that raises had been given out to certain AOC employees. As Judge Vicencia states in his letter, the raises to AOC employees “created a serious crisis of confidence in the Judicial Council’s ability to provide proper oversight to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The raises were especially troubling to Judge Vicencia in light of all the sacrifices by court staff, the judicial bench, and the general public.

This comes at a time when the state is mired in the worst financial crisis ever. For the first time in history all court houses are ordered closed a day every month, mandating every court employee take an unpaid day off from work. Citizens seeking access to judges for important legal business, including domestic violence restraining orders, are now turned away the third Wednesday of each month. Meanwhile, CJA’s members voluntarily give up 5% of their monthly salaries to save taxpayer dollars. This sacrifice will yield over $90,000,000 to California ’s citizens this fiscal year.

You can read the letter in its entirety after the jump.

Continue reading

Judicial Council Sends Out Survey As Court Closure Mid-Year Review Approaches

Next month the Judicial Council will begin to review the impact of court closures and whether the program to close courts once a month should continue for the rest of the fiscal year. In preparation for the review the Judicial Council sent out a survey to “justice system stakeholders” asking them to fill it out and list in detail what impacts the court closures have had on the people they represent. Apparently the comments and results of the survey will be compiled and turned over to the Judicial Council for their court closure review meeting.

The questions in the survey included:

  • Please describe the impact to your organization/entity,office/constituency/membership of the court being closed to the public on the three mandated court closure days (September 16, October 21, and November 18). Please include the effects on trial and appellate case processing, trials, juries, court services, other.
  • Please decribe the impact to your organization/entity,office/constituency/membership of the selection of third Wednesday as the court closure day. Include the effects on trial and appellate case processing, trials, juries, court services, etc. that are unique to the selection of Wednesday as the court closure day.
  • Please indicate the impact of court closures having been mandated on a single uniform day statewide to provide for consistency, as opposed to allowing local courts to decide whether and when a court may need to be closed, likely resulting in some courts remaining open.
  • Did your organization/entity/office furlough staff on the court closure day?
  • Has your organization/entity/office furloughed staff on a day other than the court closure day?

Participants were asked to complete the survey by December 10th.