Several hundred court workers and community activists rallied in front of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Thursday, protesting the Los Angeles trial court's plans to close all or parts of 10 courthouses and consolidate services throughout the county.
"Our interest is not just with court workers," said Ian Thompson, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents about 3,400 Southern California court employees. "Our members, some of whom will lose their jobs if this goes through, are worried about public service."
Court leaders have announced that they will shutter eight courthouses completely and "remove most court work" from two other sites to deal with a budget deficit that could reach $85 million. Officials are also consolidating specific case types in limited locations. All unlawful detainer cases, for instance, must soon be filed in one of only five "hubs," forcing some litigants and lawyers to make lengthy commutes or public-transit trips to far-flung locations. Currently, tenants may appear in one of 26 neighborhood courtrooms throughout the county.
Court officials have also warned that approximately 500 jobs will be eliminated, although not all of the positions are currently filled.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Presiding Judge David Wesley said in a statement that his court no longer has the funding to keep neighborhood courts open.
"We are now being forced by budget cuts to make changes that will disadvantage litigants, attorneys, justice system partners and all court users across the spectrum and across our court," Wesley said.
In past years, court workers have directed their budget ire at the state Administrative Office of the Courts, accusing the centralized bureaucracy of profligate spending on pet projects at the trial courts' expense. This time, rally-goers expressed anger at L.A. judges for not consulting with labor or community groups before announcing the upcoming closures.
"The judges made the decision," Thompson said. "They launched this consolidation plan. They have the power to scale it back."
A statement released by the court Wednesday said court leaders met with "hundreds" of attorneys, law enforcement officials and county representatives before deciding on the closure plan.
Thursday's rally followed on the heels of a lawsuit filed by four community groups that claim reducing the number of courthouses where eviction cases are heard is unfair to poor tenants and those with disabilities. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in L.A., names Los Angeles Presiding Judge Wesley, Governor Jerry Brown and court executive officer Jack Clarke as defendants.