Employees protest decision to close Superior, other state courts one day a month

'Closing the courts only makes the public suffer,' court clerk says

Court workers from throughout the Bay Area expressed frustration at a rally in San Francisco Wednesday over a decision by the state judicial oversight council to close state courts once a month, beginning yesterday.

The closure decision affects the Superior Court in Pleasanton.

"I'm here today because we're trying to protect public services, to keep access to the justice system," said Kim Palmer, a court clerk in Santa Clara County.

"Closing the courts only makes the public suffer," she said.

Palmer was one of several dozen court clerical workers, court reporters and interpreters, many represented by the Service Employees International Union and other unions, who protested under the hot noontime sun outside the State Building in San Francisco, home to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Among other concerns, the group was demanding "accountability and transparency" from the AOC, a 900-employee agency that carries out the actions of the Judicial Council.

The council in July ordered the closures of every state court on every third Wednesday through June of next year. The decision means that most courts will give workers unpaid furlough days, though individual jurisdictions can decide to allow employees to work when the court is closed.

Contra Costa County allowed some employees in Wednesday to do catch-up work, according to the AOC.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who chairs the Judicial Council, told the State Bar of California on Saturday that the closure decision was "the only rational option" to address the state judicial system's estimated $414 million deficit. The other alternatives were layoffs and closing court programs, he said.

The closures will save an estimated $94 million, but will also delay cases and postpone new arraignments. At least one judge will remain on call to approve emergency protective orders, warrants and some bail matters.

Many judges have also reportedly agreed to voluntary 5-percent salary givebacks to the courts.

The plan was approved by the California Judicial Council, the governing body of the state court system, in July. The shutdowns will continue until the end of the fiscal year in June 2010, but will be reconsidered by the council in January.

Chief Justice Ronald George, who chairs the council, said earlier this month, "The mission of the Judicial Council is to improve access to justice, so it was extremely difficult for us to make any decision that results in closing our courts.

"However, in the face of severe budget reductions, the council approved the closures as a way to partially offset the budget cutbacks while seeking to protect court employees and critical court programs that provide services to the public," George said.

The council was authorized by the state Legislature to select a method of closing courts one day per month to cut costs during the state's budget crisis.

The group considered several options, including closing Southern California courts on one Wednesday per month and Northern California courts on a Friday, but concluded that closing all courts on the same day each month would be least disruptive.

The remaining closure days in the current fiscal year will be Oct. 21, Nov. 18, Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21, May 19 and June 16.

Bay City News, Jeb Bing

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Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2009 at 8:52 am

"I'm here today because we're trying to protect public services, to keep access to the justice system," said Kim Palmer, a court clerk in Santa Clara County.

"Closing the courts only makes the public suffer," she said.

Was she actually able to say that with a straight face?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown
on Sep 17, 2009 at 8:55 am

Because of the economy our company has closed down 1 week a month for the past year without pay, one day hey I'd take that!!!

Like this comment
Posted by cbrook
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2009 at 9:20 am

In the private sector pay cuts and mandatory days off are the norm to balance a budget. California actually needs to do more than close the courts 1 day per month. Did you know:
California has the lowest debt rating of any state, the fourth-highest unemployment rate (11.9 percent) and its job growth rate since 2000 is almost 20 percent below the national average. Some county and state public safety employees retire at 50 receiving at least 90 percent of their final year's pay, forever. Taxpayers pour more than $3 billion a year into state employee pension funds, 10 times more than they did 10 years ago, and still there are large unfunded liabilities for which taxpayers are liable. More than 5,000 retired state employees' annual pensions exceed $100,000. If public employees did not begin drawing pensions until age 65, California would save half a trillion dollars through 2030.

Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Sep 17, 2009 at 11:05 am

All valid points, but what you are missing is the fact that most civil cases now can take anywhere between 3-5 years to get in front of a judge,all the while costing the "public" who is simply trying to get justice on their matter.(By the way this is you who has to pay the outrageous attorney fees along the way)
This will no doubt add more time to the process and cost you the "public" more. The big winners here are the attorneys who will love nothing more than to keep you as a billable for 5 years or longer now!

Like this comment
Posted by MK
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm

If only small business owners and those in the service (legal, medical) industry could suffer so little. Their livelihoods are dependent on people having a need they cater to AND, in some cases..especially in the service industry...., get paid after the service is performed.

Like this comment
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Oak Hill
on Sep 18, 2009 at 2:55 am

"Closing the courts only makes the public suffer"...

How about the apparent lack of concern for the "public" while they sit around half a day waiting to be selected for a jury, then told to go home when "the case has been settled out of court"...

Seems to me savings/time could be realized if these cases could be resolved before a prospective jury members are called. It would also speed up the court system since this time could be alloted to cases actually requiring a jury...

Set a trial date, then give the litigants a firm deadline to settle out of court. If they can settle on the day of the trial, they can settle before that date...

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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