The Los Angeles County Superior Court recently announced plans to eliminate 511 positions by June in a sweeping cost cutting effort to close an $85 million dollar budget shortfall by the beginning of the next fiscal year.
The Presiding Judge, David Wesley, said all of the cuts are necessary. Including cuts made over the past four years, the court has lost 24 percent of its employees. Meanwhile the workload continues to increase.
Nearly 50 judges and staff spent 5 months coming up with a cost-cutting plan. This involved caseload analysis, study of court facilities and discussions with attorneys and stakeholders. The cuts will result in court closures, higher court fees and longer waits for cases to be heard.
During the State of the Judiciary speech to state legislators this year, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye pleaded with lawmakers to restore some of the funding. She stated that our court system, which is the largest in the country, is facing a “crisis in civil rights” because of the cuts.
In the near future, LA Superior Courts plan to close eight regional courthouses and create “trial hubs” for eviction, small claims, personal injury and other cases. The courts will also be eliminating their alternative dispute center, which provides arbitration, mediation and settlement conferences as an option to litigation. While they are at it, they are also going to reduce the use of court-employed court reporters.
These are serious cuts. California is a state with more than 1 million civil cases filed each year – and that does not even count our criminal cases or family law. Statewide, the funding for California’s court system has been cut by $1.2 billion – more than 24 percent – over the past five years. Without judges and courthouses, our civil justice system is unable to apply and interpret all the laws we pass in California. What’s more, with fewer judges and courtrooms, abusive lawsuits can further clog our court system and delay justice for those who deserve it.
These decisions will have impacts that last for decades. Adequate funding to our courts is critical and it behooves all of us to engage in this process.