Some bloodletting was to be expected. For decades, California's government agencies have grown to excess. Meanwhile, hard times result in less revenue, more overhead, budget deficits and cuts to services. Earlier this summer, budget cuts halted construction on new courthouses while those working at the courts complained about hiring freezes causing delays in cases. That was just the beginning, it seems.
Earlier this year, Governor Brown announced $544 million in cuts to the court system. In the three years preceding those cuts, there were an additional $650 million in cuts. Now, the Los Angeles Superior Court system has to cut another $80 million from its budget. The plan is to close nearly a dozen courthouses and layoff an unknown number of employees.
According to ABC Los Angeles, the affected courthouses include: Beverly Hills, Huntington Park, Whittier, Pomona North, Malibu, West Los Angeles, San Pedro, the Beacon Street location in Long Beach, Catalina and Canyon Juvenile Justice Facility.
The affected courthouses will remain open to handle administrative manners and collect ticket payments (got to keep the revenue flowing, right?) but will not hear cases. The Los Angeles Times reports that the court system may be moving towards a "trial hubs" system where certain types of cases are heard at each remaining courthouse.
Imagine having to drive from San Pedro to Pasadena to serve on jury duty for two weeks straight. What about driving from the San Fernando Valley to Compton to have a landlord-tenant dispute handled? Sounds unpleasant, right?
The issues go beyond a bad commute, however. More cases handled by a smaller system means obvious delays. We worried before about speedy trial violations. What about witnesses? Is a reluctant victim going to fight L.A. traffic to testify against her attacker?
Let's take it one step further. Prosecutors need to prevent speedy trial violations and squeeze twice as many cases through the same court docket. Defendants don't want to accept a plea bargain. Who is going to cave first? When there is no open courtroom for six to eight months, and the defendant is pushing for trial, are prosecutors going to be forced to offer more lenient pleas in order to save the system from collapse?