Two Los Angeles County Superior Courtroom closures announced this week in Burbank and Glendale could affect services for thousands of residents, officials said.
Court officials closed Glendale's Department 3, which handled all civil limited matters, and Burbank's Department C, which handles family cases, including restraining orders, county court spokeswoman Mary Hearn said. Cases assigned to those departments were moved to other courthouses and the judges were reassigned, she added.
The latest round of cuts came after the county court system was forced to reduce spending by $30 million, prompting 56 courtrooms to close and nearly 350 workers to be scheduled for layoff by June 30. The number of layoffs at Glendale and Burbank courts has yet to be determined, Hearn said.
The cuts likely will weigh down an already overburden court system, resulting in “longer lines” and “slower responses,” the court's presiding judge, Lee Smalley Edmon, said in a statement this week.
Budget constraints drove court officials to make sweeping cuts in 2010, resulting in courtroom closures and 329 layoffs.
“It's disappointing that the public's access to the judicial system is being diminished,” said Attorney Barry Ross, who serves as president of the Glendale Bar Assn.
The latest series of cutbacks also could affect plans for a new 110,000-square-foot Glendale court on Broadway, officials said.
The state's Judicial Council on Tuesday plans to review recommendations for cutting costs for 13 courthouse construction projects. Due to the “changing dynamic” throughout the system, five of those projects, including Glendale's facility, are in Los Angeles County, said Teresa Ruano, a spokeswoman the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
“We are now in a significantly different economic climate,” said Brad R. Hill, the presiding judge of the administrative office who chairs the Court Facilities Working Group. “After years of budget cuts in the courts, we now need to look more carefully at whether we can build smaller court projects and still meet court needs, or how else we may be able to save money.”
Given the state's current budget deficit, he added, “we should take strong action to ensure that we are spending public money as prudently as possible.”
As state officials consider cost-cutting measures for new courthouse projects, Edmon urged the judicial council to “find fiscal relief for the trial courts — from any and all sources.”
“The public cannot tolerate any further major service reductions,” Edmon said in his statement.
County court closures likely will mean more parties will look for alternative ways to settle a case, including mediation and arbitration, said Ross, especially since it may now take longer to go to trial.
The closures could also translate into additional fees for clients because attorneys will have to travel farther to appear in court, officials said.
“It will impact the delivery of legal services,” said Burbank Bar Assn. President John Gerro.