SF to Close Courts, Lay Off Workers

Monday, Jul 18, 2011  |  Updated 3:00 PM PDT
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SF to Close Courts, Lay Off Workers

Cheryl Hurd

A man protests outside the San Francisco Superior Court ahead of the Prop 8 decision.

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The San Francisco Superior Court announced Monday that it's laying off more than 40 percent of its staff and shuttering 25 courtrooms because of budget cuts.

Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein said the actions were necessary to close a $13.75 million budget deficit caused by state budget cuts. She said the cuts mean it will take many more hours to pay a traffic ticket in person, up to 18 months to finalize a divorce and five years for a lawsuit to go to trial.

"The civil justice system in San Francisco is collapsing," Feinstein said.

Some 200 of the court's 480 workers will be let go by Sept. 30, including 11 of 12 commissioners who preside over a variety of cases. And she said it could get worse if optimistic revenue projections don't materialize by January.

"The future is very, very bleak for our courts," Feinstein said at a Monday press conference. Feinstein said criminal cases would remain largely unaffected because of constitutional guarantees of speedy trials. Every other type of court, though, is facing significant cutbacks.

The San Francisco courts aren't the only courts facing cutbacks, only the most dramatic. The Judicial Council, which manages the judicial branch's budget, will decide Friday whether to cut funding of local courts by 8.8 percent or about $305 million.

Other courts are considering unpaid furloughs for workers, shorter hours for clerks and other cost-cutting measures. None are going as far as San Francisco, but the budget woes have caused discord within the judiciary.

The Alliance of California Judges was formed almost three years ago by judges unhappy with the Judicial Council's fiscal management. In particular, the Alliance is demanding administrators scrap plans for a new computer system projected to cost $2 billion to fully install state wide.

Instead, court administrators are proposing delaying the project for a year, which would save $100 million.
 

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