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Courtrooms may be shut by state cuts
September 25, 2012, 05:00 AM Daily Journal staff report

Up to six county courtrooms may close next year due to state budget cuts under a proposal by the Superior Court of San Mateo County.

Local court officials are also contemplating a proposal to suspend court services in South San Francisco and San Mateo starting July 1, 2013, according to a statement yesterday by Court Executive Officer John Fitton.

"Unless the state acts to restore funds to the court, drastic reductions in court services are unavoidable,” Presiding Judge Beth Labson Freeman wrote in a statement yesterday.

Trial courts throughout California have suffered unprecedented state budget cuts of more than $1 billion over the past five years, according to Fitton’s statement. 

The Superior Court has seen a dramatic reduction in its budget as a result of these state cuts to the judicial branch and unfunded cost increases. Going forward, the court must absorb additional budget cuts that will have a significant impact for years to come, according to Fitton’s statement.

"Trial courts should not be dismantled, justice should not be rationed and communities should not be denied a rational, accessible and credible means to resolve disputes,” Freeman wrote. 

The courts have worked hard to delay the cuts as long as possible, Freeman wrote.

Cuts to the trial courts by the state Legislature have already resulted in significant court service reductions, according to Fitton’s statement.

To date, the San Mateo County Superior Court has reduced its workforce by more than 30 percent, reduced clerk’s office and phone hours, consolidated traffic and small claims clerk’s offices and traffic arraignments to Redwood City, according to Fitton’s statement.

Fitton, Freeman and Judge Robert Foiles broke the news to court staff yesterday that severe reductions may be coming.

We are "purposefully sharing this information well in advance so that the court can work with its justice partners and community leaders to restore funding and minimize these actions, if at all possible,” Foiles wrote in a statement.

If current cuts are not eliminated, Freeman and Foiles said they will be forced to further reduce the court’s workforce, including commissioners, close up to six courtrooms and suspend court services in the South San Francisco and San Mateo branches, consolidating the majority of operations in Redwood City, according to Fitton’s statement. Further reduction in public service hours may occur earlier.

"Unfortunately, we have seen many other courts already forced to close courtrooms and branches, severely limit their services and implement additional drastic layoffs” Fitton wrote in the statement. "Based on our efforts to-date, we’ve earned added time — but we will not be able to avoid severe actions if the current cuts are not eliminated by July 2013. We’re committed to do all in our power to restore essential funding to the trial courts, avoid closing courtrooms, protect public rights, safety and freedom — and avoid further layoffs.”

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