The Los Angeles County Superior Court survived the first of 12 days of self-imposed job furloughs on Wednesday.
But that didn't mean judges weren't busy.
"It was a long day yesterday," said Presiding Judge Charles "Tim" McCoy, who began an arduous, daylong series of interviews with news reporters about the situation at 3 a.m.
The court, which because of California's budget crisis faces an estimated shortfall of almost $138 million during the fiscal year that began on July 1, took the unprecedented step of voluntarily furloughing employees on the third Wednesday of each month. The first of those days was July 15.
The sprawling Los Angeles trial system boasts 600 operating courtrooms in 50 courthouses. Officially, most of the courthouses remained open for emergency matters such as domestic violence cases and criminal trials facing time constraints.
Court officials said that about 93 percent of the court's 5,562 employees took an unpaid furlough day, losing up to 4 percent of their salaries. The furloughs are expected to save the county about $18 million during the fiscal year.
The court's 438 judges and 124 commissioners were not subject to the furloughs.
"From a management perspective, it was well executed," McCoy said. "We had very little disruption. Mostly, it was from a very small number of people who didn't get the word. But frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the public had been informed that this was coming."
Still, a little more publicity next time wouldn't hurt, said Linda Lefkowitz, a judge in the Santa Monica courthouse.
"It probably would be best that there be more public advertising of the court closures in the future so that we really ameliorate people's coming long distances," she said. "That seemed to be a bit of a problem."
As for herself, Lefkowitz spent the afternoon working on submitted decisions and, in the morning, attended a seminar about conducting settlement discussions. It was one of two seminars the court system put on to keep judges busy, since it was impossible to hold court under the circumstances.
"It was a good way to handle a day that was quieter than they usually are," she said.
Elsewhere, Mendocino County Superior Court began a similar cost-cutting program by closing some of its courtrooms on Wednesday, said Philip Carrizosa, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, which administers California's court systems. Orange County Superior Court and San Francisco County Superior Court plan to begin similar courtroom closure programs on Aug. 19, he said.
The office has introduced legislation that would require that all courtroom closures occur on the third Wednesday of each month beginning on Sept. 16, he said. But court closures are not mandatory, and courts retain authority to cut costs through other methods.