Judge Rejects Challenge to Court Closures

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal court has thrown out the claims of community groups opposed to the closure of courthouses for landlord-tenant disputes.
     Last week, several community groups sought to enjoin Los Angeles Superior Court consolidation plan, which went into effect on Monday. Under the plan, the court closed 21 of its 26 courtrooms for eviction hearings.
     Plaintiffs include nonprofits Union de Vecinos, the Coalition for Economic Survival, People Organized for Westside Renewal, and the Independent Living Center of Southern California. They say the court closures will place an unfair burden on the poor and disabled, adding hours more to travel times.
     In their lawsuit the say consolidation illegally "shuts the courthouse doors on many of the county's most vulnerable residents."
     The eviction cases, known as unlawful detainer cases, must now be filed either in the downtown Stanley Mosk Courthouse, or in Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, or Antelope Valley.
     Last year 67,182 unlawful detainers complaints were filed by landlords in Los Angeles County, according to court spokeswoman Mary Hearn. Unlawful detainers are filed when a tenant refuses to leave an apartment or leased property after receiving an eviction notice.
     On Monday, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter dismissed the lawsuit, and abstained from considering its merits.
     Plaintiffs' representative Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County Executive Director Neal Dudovitz said he was "disappointed with the ruling" but said the case was far from over.
     "The issue raised in the case: the impact of Superior's Court's consolidation plan on poor people who are respondents in unlawful detainer cases remains a serious problem," Dudovitz said. "We can't leave the plan in place because of its dramatic impact on poor people and the disabled. It effectively slams the courthouse door on them."
     Neighborhood Legal Services may take the claims to state court or appeal the ruling to the federal court of appeals, said Dudovitz.
     He emphasized that Judge Hatter did "not reach any of the merits of the case," and said the judge had invited the group to take its claims to state court.
     The Superior Court will close eight courthouses and cut 511 jobs to cut the last $85 million from its $195 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year.
     It will relocate criminal, traffic, juvenile, small claims, eviction disputes, and civil collections to other courts.