Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

Santa Clara County Sheriff Proposes Closing Morgan Hill, Palo Alto Courthouses

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A staffing shortage in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office could lead to the closing of two courthouses.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said there simply aren’t enough deputies to provide security at the Palo Alto and Morgan Hill courthouses.

All courthouses in Santa Clara County are staffed by sheriff’s deputies, who provide metal detector screening and courtroom security. But the foot traffic in Morgan Hill is a trickle on many days.

Smith said in a memo Thursday that she would like to close the Morgan Hill and Palo Alto courthouses because there simply isn’t the manpower to keep them open.

The news has many people in those communities worried.

“It’s convenient because its 15 minutes away. And the cost of gas isn’t helping the situation at all,” Brenda Manzo said.

The court system was reportedly caught off guard, saying closing the courthouses is not an option. The topic is one that both prosecutors and defense lawyers can agree on.

“These communities in Santa Clara County need access to justice. We hope that the courtrooms stay open,” said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Vishal Bathija.

Fatima Ortiz, who is a public defender said it would be an injustice to close the doors.

“It’s very difficult for a lot of our clients. Especially indigent clients to make it onto San Jose. Public transportation that could take three hours,” she said.

The Morgan Hill courthouse is relatively new. While the courthouse in Palo Alto just reopened after closing for two years, due to the pandemic.

With deputies already working mandatory overtime because of low staffing levels, the sheriff feels there are few options and hopes all sides can find a temporary solution.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office released the following statement Thursday:

"Due to the severe staffing shortages plaguing our agency, we advised Court Administration to consolidate courtrooms to a centralized location to best utilize the limited staffing resources. The closure of two courthouses will substantially increase the number of courtrooms that can be utilized by integrating staff to key locations. The opening of the South County and Palo Alto Courthouses has depleted our resources and impaired our ability to provide adequate staffing levels to maintain the safety and security within the courthouses. The mission of the Sheriff’s Office is to provide safety and security for Court staff, the incarcerated, and those doing business in the Courts. The consolidating of deputies to core areas will allow us to move deputies from outlying courthouses to staff additional courtrooms at the Hall of Justice. Due to our low staffing levels, 145 overtime shifts are required to be filled in the Courts each week. The Sheriff’s Office is currently working with the county to attract new hires and fill staff vacancies."

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