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Budget Shortfall Closes 10 Los Angeles Courthouses

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

  • By: Jennifer Smith
  • Organization: The Wall Street Journal
  • Source: California

Remember the court funding crisis that bar groups and legal luminaries have been warning us about?

Well, it seems that matters have come to a head in California, where this week Los Angeles Superior Court officials said they plan to shutter 10 regional courthouses to address a projected $50 to $80 million budget shortfall.

The impact on the 9.9 million residents of L.A. County, the nation’s most populous, is expected to be considerable. Expect bigger lines, slower case resolution, and longer trips to court—no joke, given the ever-present gridlock, particularly for those who rely on public transportation.

“People, particularly those with smaller value cases, will have to go halfway across the county instead of going to a court in their community,” said Richard Burdge Jr., President of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. “If you can’t get your contracts enforced, or disposed of in a reasonable period of time, it’s bad for business… You’re going to see lines going around the courthouse for people just trying to pay traffic tickets.”

The number of locations handling small claims cases will shrink from 26 to six, according to the court. Collections will be handled in just two places instead of 24. Under the courtroom reorganization plan, all personal injury cases will be concentrated at a single court downtown.

All told the changes affect facilities that now serve 2.9 million people, from courthouses on L.A.’s well-heeled West Side to those in working-class neighborhoods to the east and south. The changes will take place over the next eight months, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The difficulty I have with all of this is our court system was designed to be a neighborhood court system,” Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon told the Recorder, a California legal publication. “Unfortunately our budget has been cut so much that we’re not going to be able to continue that level of service.”

Now, cases assigned to Malibu will be sent to Santa Monica or Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley. People who would have resolved traffic tickets, misdemeanors, and small claims or landlord tenant disputes at the Pomona North courthouse (which serves 350,000 residents) will have to go another 15 or so miles west, to courthouses in El Monte or West Covina.

“The ones that are going to be hurt the most are the average citizens,” Mr. Burdge said. “People on legal aid, those using pro bono services—for them, justice delayed really is justice denied.”

 

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