LOCAL L.A. Now

Long delays expected as L.A. County courts cut staff

Many wait times in the L.A. County court system are already long but a  new round of deep cuts, including the elimination of 500 jobs, will make the wait even longer, officials say.

As a result of the changes, court reporters will no longer be provided for most civil cases. Traffic courts will be clogged—already, they are so busy that people at the end of long lines are given vouchers guaranteeing them a spot near the front of the line the next day.

On Monday, 23-year-old Christy Harutunian waited with paperwork in hand outside the Metropolitan Courthouse, a traffic court in downtown Los Angeles. She stood at the end of the line, which stretched around the building.

Harutunian, a USC pharmacy student, said she had traveled from her home in Glendale to resolve a traffic ticket from February 2012 for making an illegal lane change while driving home from school. She was fined $300.

The court had neglected to send her traffic school paperwork to the Department of Motor Vehicles, Harutunian said. Including travel time, it took her most of the afternoon to resolve the problem, she said.

The situation is likely to get worse, officials said. The court, which already had problems dealing with the caseload, is expected to receive more than 50,000 additional traffic cases this year because of the elimination of traffic courts elsewhere, according to court officials.

L.A. County Superior Court used to have a traffic call center offering operator assistance, but that was eliminated in an earlier round of budget cuts.

On Friday, 177 people in the Los Angeles County court system will lose their jobs, court officials announced this week. An additional 139 people will receive demotions and pay cuts, 223 will be transferred to other work locations and some positions will go unfilled, officials said. Including this round of cuts, the court has lost nearly 1,400 positions since 2008, said Mary Hearn, a court spokeswoman.

The cuts were prompted by a projected $85-million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Los Angeles has the state's largest court system with about 4,400 employees, some 540 judges and an annual operating budget last year of $734 million.

Presiding Judge David S. Wesley, who has been in charge of cutting the county's court budget, said the cuts he's made address about $56 million of the shortfall.

A deal worked out this week between Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators would restore about $20 million to the county's courts. Reimbursements from the state and the use of some bond money should close the L.A. County courts' remaining budget gap, officials said.

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

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