L.A. Superior Court Fires 177, Demotes 139

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles Superior Court will lay off 177 employees today as the largest trial court in the nation deals with a $84 million budget shortfall.
     Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature this week worked out a deal for a balanced budget. But the cuts to court jobs and services show the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis still reverberate through the courts - and that California still has some ways to go.
     The judicial branch will hand court employees their walking papers today. But Superior Court spokeswoman Mary Hearn told Courthouse News on Thursday that workers already had started clearing their desks.
     The L.A. courts will cut 511 jobs from the budget. One in seven employees - a total of 539 - will be affected by the $56 million in cuts.
     In addition to the 177 layoffs, 139 people will be demoted and their pay will be cut, and 223 employees will be reassigned to new jobs on Monday.
     The Legislature this week approved $60 million in new funding for state trial courts, $20 million of it for L.A. Superior Court.
     Presiding Judge David Wesley said that was "too little, too late," though he hopes the extra money will stem the bleeding.
     L.A. Superior Courts have 4,400 employees, 540 of whom are judges. Its structural budget deficit is $195 million.
     The court has cut budgeted staff positions by 30 percent since 2002 -1,398 jobs have been eliminated since 2008. Two rounds of layoffs, in 2010 and 2012, helped the L.A. courts cut annual spending by $100 million.
     Eight L.A.-area courthouses will close: those in Pomona North, Whittier, Huntington Park, Beacon Street, San Pedro, Kenyon Juvenile, West Los Angeles and Malibu.
     Most court work will be removed from Beverly Hills and Catalina courthouses. Personal injury, collections, small claims, probate, unlawful detainer and traffic cases will be folded into fewer courts.
     Also on t     he chopping block are part-time court reporters in civil courts, and full-time juvenile court referees. Juvenile dependency mediation services will shrink, and the court's alternative dispute resolution unit will be scrubbed altogether.
     "We have reached the new normal," Judge Wesley said. "And there is nothing to like about it."
     Assistant Presiding Judge Carolyn Kuhl noted a "particular irony" in the fact that employees who helped restructure the court will suffer from the cuts.
     "They and all our employees have done the impossible: moving hundreds of thousands of case files, and dismantling and rebuilding large parts of our court," Kuhl said. "I admire their commitment to serving the public. It has not wavered."
     Los Angeles County Bar Association did not immediately respond to request for comment after business hours Thursday.