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.