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Budget woes force court closures

POSTED July 31, 2009 10:45 p.m.
Feeling the sting of state budgetary cutbacks, the Judicial Council of California approved the closure of all state courts for one day a month.
Beginning Sept. 16, all California courts from the State Supreme Court on down to traffic courts, will shut their doors and cease operations on the third Wednesday of every month through June 2010.
According to the Judicial Council, the state judicial branch is dealing with a $414 million budget reduction. The court closures are expected to save about $94.3 million.
The court closures are authorized by Government Code section 68106, recently approved by the Governor and Legislature as part of a budget trailer bill to the 2009–2010 Budget Act.
“The mission of the Judicial Council is to improve access to justice, so it is extremely difficult for us to make any decision that results in closing our courts,” stated Chief Justice Ronald M. George, chair of the Judicial Council in a press release. “However, it is important that we have a broad perspective during these times and not take any action that in the long term may be even more devastating than the proposals we are now considering.”
As discussions began about the prospect of closing courthouses across the state, many local jurisdictions requested Friday closures because they would be less disruptive to court proceedings, but Fridays came to be problematic to schedule because of some holidays said Michael Tozzi, the court executive officer of Stanislaus County Superior Court.
The court closures will replace the furlough days all court employees were having to take to reduce the budget. The furloughs are equal to a 5 percent pay cut. The closures will be treated as an unpaid court holiday.
The Stanislaus County Superior Court operates on a budget of $32 million and has been tasked with trimming $3.4 million, Tozzi said. The closure of Stanislaus courts one Wednesday a month is expected to generate about $600,000 in savings according to Tozzi.
The Stanislaus County Superior Court has already taken several courses of action to close the budget gap including reduced hours at the clerk’s office, the closure of traffic courts in Ceres and Turlock, and a hiring freeze.
In addition to the closures, the Senate Bill authorized fee increases for various court filings — both civil and criminal.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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