Sign of the Times: San Francisco Court System “Essentially Out of Business”

ABC news notes:

The presiding judge of San Francisco’s court system announced Monday she is preparing to dismantle operations in the civil division of her court and she is warning the layoffs and closures will be drastic.

What is in store is plenty of pain. Pain for the public and pain for court workers, who face unprecedented layoffs. Courtrooms will be closed. Clerk’s offices will be shuttered. And the hallways will be quiet.

Presiding judge Katherine Feinstein broke the bad news that 25 of 63 courtrooms will close and 200 employees will be laid off.

The civil division will essentially be out of business,” Feinstein said. “The cases will sit on shelves piled high and will not make it into a courtroom for close to five years. It will for all practical purposes dismantle our court. Paying a traffic ticket for a criminal fine at the Hall of Justice will take hours standing in line. There will be fewer clerks there to process your payment. Obtaining a copy of a criminal or civil court record will take months. Obtaining a divorce will take at least a year and a half.

Feinstein says this was the only option. San Francisco’s courts face a deficit of almost $14 million. In recent years, the court dipped into its reserves to prevent layoffs, but its reserves have dried up. Now, their budget will be cut by almost $5 million.

AP reports:

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

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“The future is very, very bleak for our courts” ….

In a press release issued yesterday, the Court said:

“Equal access to justice is one of the fundamental underpinnings of our democracy,” Judge Feinstein said.

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We will be a shell of what we once were.

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The Court will close:

•12 Civil Trial Departments;

•Two Complex Litigation Departments;

•One Law & Motion/Discovery Department;

•One Case Management Department;

•One Juvenile Dependency Department; and

• One Juvenile Traffic Department;

Metropolitan News-Enterprise points out that other California courts are in the same boat:

Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Lee Edmon said yesterday such drastic measures are not being ruled out locally in the wake of larger-than-anticipated state budget cuts.

“All options are on the table at this point,” Edmon said, adding that the court leadership has not yet decided how to proceed.

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Edmon acknowledged “trial courts have been cut to the bone” already, noting the superior court “laid off 500 people not too long ago”….

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“This year is bad and next year is worse,” she said” ….

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San Diego Superior Court Judge Daniel Goldstein … predicted “more staff is going to be laid off in more counties to come”….

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