California Trial Courts Proposed Budget Reductions By Governor

Jan. 11, 2013 - Statement Issued by Judge David S. Wesley, Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court,Regarding Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget Plan

Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal, released Thursday, preserves previous budget reductions to the California trial courts and, by doing so, confirms the need for the Los Angeles Superior Court to implement a plan to close 10 courthouses by June 30.

The Governor proposes to maintain last year’s level of fiscal support for the trial courts. In place of $400 million of expired one-time funding solutions in the FY12-13 budget, he proposes to redirect $200 million of money currently earmarked for new courthouse construction, and fill the rest with General Fund revenues.

This proposal would preserve $505 million of reductions in state support already imposed on California’s trial courts. Those reductions result in an annual budget shortfall of $195 million for the Los Angeles Superior Court in fiscal year 2013-14.

Much of that shortfall has already been absorbed by the Court which has already reduced staffing by more than 800 positions over the past three years – a 16% contraction of staffing which, along with other savings, has reduce annual spending by $110 million.

“Despite the huge cuts already imposed, we have implemented significant operating efficiencies that have allowed us to keep intact our ability to provide access to justice,” notes Presiding Judge David S. Wesley.

“But we have run out of options,” Wesley notes. A shortfall of $85 million remains. While the Court will postpone the impacts for the rest of the current fiscal year by the use of its reserve funds, those funds will run out in June, 2013.

Therefore the Court must take steps now to reduce its annual budget by $85 million by the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1, 2013. While the specific impacts on the Court will not be clear until the budget process concludes, the Governor’s proposal confirms the need to move forward with the plan announced in November to close 10 courthouses (Pomona North, Whittier, Huntington Park, Catalina, San Pedro, Beacon Street, Malibu, West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Kenyon Juvenile) and to consolidate court services at fewer locations (for instance, to hear Small Claims cases in 6 locations, rather than the 26 locations where they are currently heard). These changes will result in the elimination of a large number of staff positions to achieve the required savings.

The Court will soon meet with employees’ bargaining representatives to meet and confer over the impact of the staff reductions and the reorganization.

The necessary consolidation will greatly reduce the range of services available to communities throughout the county of Los Angeles. It will place a significant burden on law enforcement officials, prosecutors and other justice system partners. And it will make it much more difficult for people to get to court.

“We are witnessing the dismantling of the Los Angeles justice system,” said Wesley. “The sustained decline in state support for the California trial courts evidenced in the Governor’s budget proposal will prove crippling to our ability to provide adequate access to justice.”