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Court cuts could cost L.A. County’s economy $30 billion

The snowball effect of budget cuts in Los Angeles County’s court system will result in a $30-billion hit to the local economy over the next four years, according to a study commissioned by the L.A. County Superior Court.

The impact of closed courtrooms, increasing delays and job cuts projected in the coming years in the nation’s largest trial court system will go beyond courthouse walls and lead to dramatic revenue and job losses in the legal services industry and other businesses, the study’s authors found.

Charles “Tim” McCoy, presiding judge of the L.A. County courts, has cautioned that if the current outlook does not improve, he may be forced to shut down as many as 180 courtrooms -- out of about 600 -- and eliminate 1,800 jobs over the next four years. Courts statewide have already begun shutting their doors and telling employees to stay home one day a month.

To offset the effects of cuts by the Legislature, McCoy has been advocating for a controversial measure to tap into bond revenue that is supposed to fund repairs and construction of court facilities to fill the budget gap.

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The study, prepared by L.A.-based economics research and consulting firm Micronomics, assumes that budget shortfalls will continue until 2013. The report estimates that if the courts are forced to whittle down their services, a total of 150,000 jobs will be lost in the area as a direct or indirect result.

Most of the ripple effect forecast by the study comes from cuts in the civil courts, where McCoy has indicated that as many as 111 courtrooms may be closed, tripling the caseload for judges and forcing people to wait years for their cases to go to trial.

The legal services industry will take a $13-billion loss, and businesses operating in uncertainty pending the outcome of civil disputes will cause about $15 billion in economic losses, the study found.

State and local governments will lose about $1.6 billion in tax revenue, according to the study.

“The legal service industry in Los Angeles is roughly a $5-billion-a-year market,” said Roy Weinstein, one of the study’s authors. “This is a significant impact we’re talking about.”

William C. Vickrey, administrative director of the California state courts, said the study “sets the goal that we can’t let this happen.”

The courts were already stretched thin even before the recession battered the state, he said.

“The impact, both financial and the human toll, would be tremendous, and it would be tragic,” Vickrey said of the scenario set out by the study.

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Vickrey said judicial branch leaders have met with the governor twice about the upcoming budget.

victoria.kim@latimes.com


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