L.A. Court Announces Closures & Cutbacks

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Los Angeles Superior Court announced that it will be shutting down nearly all of its operations and furloughing employees one Wednesday per month beginning mid-July, in response to an estimated budget shortfall of nearly $90 million for the coming fiscal year.

     “The public must realize that the state’s fiscal situation means we cannot actually solve the budget crisis we face,” said John A. Clarke, the court’s executive clerk, referring to California’s more than $20 billion budget deficit.
     The once-monthly closure and furlough plan is set to begin July 15 and is expected to save $18 million annually, according to an announcement on the court’s Web site. However, the court said it might not be enough to avoid layoffs and the closing of entire courthouses if the state’s financial situation does not improve drastically by the beginning of fiscal year 2011-2012.
     The court’s projected $90 million shortfall is nearly double the amount in the 2002 budget crisis that led to the layoffs of more than 150 employees and the closure of 29 courtrooms.
     If the financial situation continues to deteriorate, the court said it fears that 1,300 jobs – a quarter of the court’s 5,400 employees – could be eliminated within the next four years under a plan recently approved by the court’s judicial leadership. That would mean job reductions in courthouses and courtrooms nationwide.
     “The best we can do is to minimize the pain these cuts will inflict,” Clarke said. “No one — most of all the court — is happy about this.”
     The court’s plan is going into effect even though the Judicial Council of California has yet to announce a statewide closure and furlough, the posting said.
     The court’s Wednesday closures will affect about 600 courtrooms and bench officers and more than 5,000 employees working in 50 separate courthouse facilities.
     Some courthouses will stay open out of necessity and agencies whose operations are unaffected by the furlough, including the offices of the district attorney, public defender, alternate public defender, probation department, city attorney and child support services, will have full security protection. The Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder will also remain unaffected.
     Because closure days will not be considered holidays, drop boxes will be provided for filing, and judges will reorganize their calendars to accommodate the off days, the court said. It has also imposed a system-wide “hard,” or mandatory, hiring freeze.
     The court will make $16 million in other reductions, largely by cutting services and supplies, restricting travel and other means.
     The announcements were made in response to projected Los Angeles Superior Court deficits of $89.9 million in fiscal year 2009-2010 and $118.3 million by 2012-2013, according to the announcement.
     Although the court anticipates beginning 2009-2010 with as much as $90 million in reserves, it plans to spread the money over an anticipated four-year crisis period.
     Much of the reserve will be used in the first two years to lessen the current blow on the court system.

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