Downey courtroom closes as part of budget cuts

DOWNEY - Downey Superior Court is scheduled to lose a courtroom as part of $30 million budget cuts affecting courtrooms throughout Los Angeles County.Downey Superior Court will shutter Dept. 2, which handles limited civil and small claims appeals. Norwalk Superior Court also is losing a courtroom - Dept. Z - which hears general civil cases. Los Angeles Superior Court is closing 56 courtrooms in total and laying off 350 workers. It is also reducing its use of court reporters and eliminating informal juvenile traffic courts. "Staffing reductions due to budget cuts over the past 10 years have forced our court to reduce staffing by 24 percent, while case filing continues to increase," said Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon. "This has created incredible pressures on our court to keep up with our work. We cannot endure these pressures for much longer." Court officials said they saved $70 million last year by freezing wages, furloughing court staff and eliminating staff positions, but it wasn't enough. "This year, the state cuts are forcing us to reduce our spending by an additional $30 million - on top of the $70 million in reductions we have already made," said Edmon. "There will be as many as 350 dedicated, skilled court workers who will no longer be serving the residents of Los Angeles County. "When we lose those people, we will no longer be able to shield the core work of the court - the courtroom - from the budget crisis," Edmon added. In all, 24 civil, 24 criminal, four juvenile delinquency, three family and one probate court will close by June 30. Caseloads will be distributed among the remaining courtrooms. Judges whose courtrooms are closed will be reassigned to fill vacancies, to share staff or to handle settlement conferences to resolve cases without trials. Effective May 15, the court will no longer provide court reporters for civil trials. After June 18, court reporters will only be available for civil law-and-motion matters on a limited basis. Court reporters will continue to work in criminal, family, probate, delinquency and dependency cases. Non-courtroom staff will also be cut by at least 100 by June 30. "Our judges and staff have shown incredible dedication and commitment in keeping the court running during these past two years," said Edmon. "But these new reductions will not allow it to be business as usual. There will be longer lines at clerks' windows across the county and slower responses to the public's needs across the court." The informal juvenile traffic court is a program in which minors who commit low-level offenses are held to account for their actions by the court and by their parents - but outside of the traditional delinquency system. "These courts have allowed us to address tens of thousands of offenses in a more appropriate forum than delinquency court," said assistant presiding judge David Wesley. "We are losing a crucial element of the juvenile justice system to lack of funding." Edmon, the presiding judge, said it "saddened him to make the layoffs." "These extraordinary actions cut into the core work of the courts," he said. "With risks of more reductions on the horizon, we are already rationing justice. The Judicial Council must find fiscal relief for the trial courts - from any and all sources. The public cannot tolerate any further major service reductions." No cases are being dismissed as a result of the courtroom closures.

********** Published: April 19, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 01