Money-Saving Court Changes Considered

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Superior Court is considering transferring criminal cases from the Chatsworth courthouse and closing its lockup, in an effort to cope with a $57-million shortfall for this year.

Closing the lockup would save about $1 million in security costs annually, court officials said last week.

Also, courthouses in Monrovia and Culver City may be closed or converted into customer service centers for an additional $600,000 in savings, said L.A. County Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini.

"It's clear that significant budget challenges remain for the court and virtually every other institution of government that receives state funding," Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes said in a prepared statement. "It would be irresponsible for the court to fail to examine closely the role of these four facilities in our continuing operations."

A fourth courthouse, in Redondo Beach, could be closed under a proposal unrelated to the court's budget problems.

Residents near the Chatsworth courthouse opposed the $98-million complex, which opened in June. They were concerned about the lockup facility and that criminal cases would be argued at the courthouse.

Under the new proposal, the criminal caseloads of three courtrooms in Chatsworth would be transferred to the San Fernando courthouse. In exchange, the civil caseloads of five courtrooms would be relocated to Chatsworth.

Both courtrooms would continue to hear traffic and small claims cases, Parachini said.

This change has won support from nearby residents.

"This should put the courthouse back to how it should have been," said Marty Woll, interim president of the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council.

A decision on the future of the Chatsworth courthouse could come within a few months, Parachini said.

Since court officials announced that they faced a $57-million deficit for the 2002-03 fiscal year, they have shut 29 courtrooms around Los Angeles County; closed lockups at courthouses in Hollywood, Monrovia and South Gate; and laid off nearly 200 employees.

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