The Effect of Budget Cuts on Los Angeles County Courts

A move over the summer has Los Angeles County civil courts backing up – and it all revolves around deep budget cuts in the court system. The budget cuts were a result of the projected $85 million budget shortfall beginning July 1. And everyone is paying as a result.

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One of the most notable cuts to the budget involves the elimination of more than 500 jobs, some of which are court reporter jobs. As a result, court reporters will not be provided for most civil cases. The cuts also call for the closure of seven regional courthouses.

Although everyone will certainly continue to be entitled access to the justice system, access will certainly be delayed. Traffic courts, for example, which are notoriously busy to begin with, will likely see substantial wait lines, with vouchers being given to those people who wait all day but fail to navigate their way into court.

Los Angeles County operates the largest court system in the state, with about 4,400 employees and 540 judges. The court’s operating budget in FY2012 was $734 million. Cuts are expected to reduce the shortfall in the budget by about $56 million. In addition to the cuts, Governor Jerry Brown has pledged to restore about $20 million in funding to the courts, and reimbursements from the state are expected to close the remaining budget gap.

The general fund for the courts has been cut by nearly 65 percent over the last 5 years. And, although the courts have supplemented their budget in recent years by using reserve funds and by taking money earmarked for capital improvement, their sources have been all but tapped, leaving a significant shortfall.

This year’s job cuts add to the nearly 1,400 positions slashed since 2008 within the county court system.

The cost-cutting plan includes consolidating many of the small cases to just a handful of courts throughout the county. These courts, which will be called “hub” courts, will handle such cases as personal injury lawsuits and small claims. Eviction courts, for example, will be reduced from 26 to just 5.

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