San Diego Superior Court Facing $14 Million In Cuts
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Aired 6/20/12 on KPBS News.
San Diego Superior Court is facing $14 million in reduced funding for the fiscal year starting July 1 and the elimination of 250 jobs or more, due to state budget cuts, court officials said today.
You may see longer lines and delays in service in the next two years at the San Diego County Superior Court.
That's because the court faces $14 million in reduced funding from the state when the fiscal year begins on July 1.
The cuts could result in 250 layoffs, six downtown criminal courtrooms being closed and the shuttering of the North County probate court and juvenile dependency courtroom, a downtown civil department and the Ramona branch.
"The cuts envisioned by our budget reduction plan will affect every judge, court employee and ultimately the litigants, court users and citizens of San Diego County,'' Presiding Judge Robert Trentacosta said in a released statement.
Assistant Presiding Judge David Danielsen said the changes could affect everyone.
"It's a very somber time at the court, we've tried very hard to be a leader in the state in how we deliver justice, we've done some very progressive things,” he said. “When you lose this level of funding you can do nothing but step back from the progress that we've made and that unfortunately is going to be the byproduct of all this."
For example, Danielsen said when choosing where to cut back services, the judges had to pick between the “lesser of several evils.” Since the central courthouse in downtown can handle all of the probate matters for the county, the North County probate court and juvenile courtroom may close.
Potential layoffs could include student workers, retired rehires, law clerks, retired commissioners and paid juvenile court pro tem hearing officers.
“These are really good dedicated people, so it is in fact quite heartbreaking for the court to have to do this,” Danielsen said.
He also said though this fiscal year's budget reduction looks bleak, the 2013-2014 fiscal year will be worse with a projected $26 million in funding cuts.
“Those first year cuts are not going to be the ones that make a significant difference, it’s the second year that we’re going to find we’re going to be making even tougher decisions affecting more courtrooms,” he said. “I think that’s when the real slowdown is going to hit.”
The tentative 2013-2014 fiscal year budget calls for 30 courtrooms to be closed, eliminating 60 jobs. It also calls for additional cuts in family and small claims courts, cuts in civil business operations and the implementation of two unpaid furlough days per month for all court employees.
By then, the county's court system will operate on a budget of less than $150 million, compared to $190.5 million in the current fiscal year, Dalton said.
"The impact of these recommended reductions on the San Diego County Superior Court will fundamentally alter the way in which the court does business,'' Trentacosta said. "No court can reduce its current operating budget by 21 percent, on top of reductions incurred during the preceding four fiscal years, without radically altering the structure, composition and capability of the court.''
Danielsen said the harm that is going to be caused by these cuts will be tangible and palpable very quickly.
City News Service contributed to this report.