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Most L.A. courts closed for furlough day

July 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Most Los Angeles County Superior Court courtrooms are closed Wednesday for the first of 12 monthly furloughs planned due to the budget crisis. However, some essential services will be provided.A limited number of courtrooms will only be open for emergency hearings and to file paperwork, with almost all employees on unpaid furlough.

"I'll be missing 12 days of pay, which is almost two weeks of salary. That's going to impact my family and all those around me," said Sharia Peters, a SEIU court employee. "It's going to affect my community. It's going to affect my ability to purchase things."

The furloughs were prompted by a projected budget deficit of up to $120 million for the next four years. Court officials say the cuts, which are expected to save $18 million per year, are intended to prevent permanent court closures and layoffs.

Future furlough days are planned on the third Wednesday of each month through June 2010.

"It's a very big hassle. I have three kids I have to get to summer school this morning and then pick them at a particular time and errands to run, so it's a big inconvenience," said Valerie Andrews, a Los Angeles resident.

The L.A. County court network is the nation's largest trial court system, with 600 courtrooms in 50 courthouses throughout the county.

Most courthouses, including those in downtown Los Angeles, Long Beach, Torrance, Downey, Norwalk, Bellflower and Compton, will have at least one courtroom open for custody arraignments, felony bench warrants and other limited business.

The limited courtrooms open will also handle requests for restraining orders for threats of domestic violence, elder abuse or civil harassment involving stalking or potential violence.

County clerks' offices will be open and will offer limited services, including filing of paperwork and acceptance of fines and fees. Filing dates have not been extended. Papers may be filed in the main Clerk's Office downtown by leaving them in a secure drop box. Any papers left in a drop box by 4:30 p.m. will be considered filed on July 15. No review of filings will take.

Most jurors are also being told not to report to courthouses.

Many fear fewer court hours will only back up the system even more.

"Right now trials aren't being heard, you know, multiple years, and that's frustrating for people who want justice and want this to end," said attorney Katherine Cody. "It's more expensive for everyone in the long run."

Regular court service is expected to resume Thursday.

Even if state lawmakers come up with a budget fix the furloughs are likely to remain in place. Court officials say they are also looking into the possibility of closing some courthouses.

"Unfortunately, even with the solutions that they working on right now, I'm also in the process of having to consider the possibility, the real possibility, of closing some courtrooms and potentially some courthouses in Los Angeles this fiscal year," said L.A. Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy.

There are some indications that lawmakers in Sacramento are getting close to a deal, possibly by the end of the week.

Judges have also taken a voluntary pay cut. They say if their employees are going to have to take a pay cut they should too.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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