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Courthouse to shutter doors

POSTED July 10, 2009 8:27 p.m.

Reeling from an unprecedented budget cut at the state level, the Stanislaus County Superior Court has decided to close Turlock’s courthouse and furlough workers.


Turlock’s branch of the county court will be temporarily closed until “local budget issues are resolved and the court’s two new additional judges have been appointed,” said Court Executive Officer Michael Tozzi.


The closure will take effect on Oct. 2 and is expected to last for a least a year, Tozzi said.


The Turlock branch almost exclusively deals with traffic issues and handles about 170 cases per week, according to Court Operations Manager Jeanine Tucker. The seven clerks who work at the Turlock branch will be transferred to other divisions of the superior court in either downtown Modesto or at the Floyd Avenue branch, Tozzi said.


All Turlock traffic cases will be heard at the traffic court branch at 2260 Floyd Ave. Small claims can be filed at the downtown Modesto location and will be heard in the new City Towers building. People will be able to pay traffic tickets online through the court’s Web site and they are working on a program that would allow the public to file small claims cases online as well.


The move to close the Turlock branch is projected to save the county court system about $38,000, according to Tozzi.


Courts all over the state have been hit with massive cuts as the California Judicial Branch grapples with a $414 million budget reduction.
Stanislaus County Superior Court will be operating on a budget of about $32 million for the fiscal year, after cutting $3.4 million in expenses, Tozzi said.


In a move designed to save jobs, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees voted 70 percent in favor of a 5 percent pay cut. The court managers are not represented by the association, but will take the cut as well. Judges are the only ones not affected by the pay cut because of a constitutional provision regarding their salaries.


The salary reduction for the 261 local court employees and those statewide, will come in the form of a furlough. Courthouse workers who are state employees will take off four hours per every two-week pay period.


The District Attorney’s office will have 13 furlough days and the Public Defender’s office, which has a smaller staff, will have eight.
The furloughs will be during the 2009-10 fiscal year and will start July 18.


“The pay cut affects people who can least afford a reduction in their monthly disposable income,” Tozzi said. “Most of our employees are spending more on gas, more on groceries, more on health care and more on services. In seems ironic and somewhat contradictory that in a time when we’re suppose to be trying to stimulate the economy, people’s disposable income is being reduced. It doesn’t seem right to be hurting the people who can least afford a pay reduction.”


In addition to the worker approved furloughs, the judicial system in the state could be forced to close one extra day a month.


“The California legislature and the governor may still impose a statewide mandatory furlough day, which would close all courts statewide for one day per month,” Tozzi said. “That day would be deemed a court holiday. While Wednesday has been the day discussed in Sacramento, most local courts would prefer a Friday as being less disruptive to jury trials, preliminary hearings and other court calendars. The language for the mandated furlough is still in the budget trailer bill currently being discussed by the legislators.”


The court has also imposed a hiring freeze. To allay the impact of the freeze on court operations, the court records office has had to reduce their hours. The new hours will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday with no lunch closures. The new hours will take effect on July 27.
“No one is happy about these cuts and closures, but in these times you have to make adjustments where you can,” Tozzi said.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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