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The presiding judge of the Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court recently warned hundreds of litigators at the Los Angeles County Bar Association that the court would lay off more than 300 people in March. The Los Angeles Superior Court, which employs more than 5,500 people, faces a $79 million deficit this year — a budgetary hole that administrators expect to deepen to $130 million, Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy said. “Unless we get external relief from the budget cuts that have already been imposed on the courts, this outcome is an inevitable result from our need to live inside the drastically reduced dollars we’ve been given to operate the courts,” McCoy told The National Law Journal on Thursday. “And the damage being done to the L.A. Superior Court is the result of budget decisions that have already been made.” In the March layoffs, 330 employees could lose their jobs, he said. By the end of this fiscal year on June 30, a total of 485 positions will be lost, some through attrition. In September, the court is poised to lay off about 500. “It’s going to be catastrophic if something doesn’t get done,” said Don Mike Anthony, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. On Feb. 8, Anthony, who is a partner at Hahn & Hahn in Pasadena, Calif., wrote a letter urging the Judicial Council of California, which administers the state’s courts, to release approved construction bond money to pay the court’s operating expenses. McCoy has targeted those funds as the lifeboat for Los Angeles Superior Court. “Our bar has been working quite closely with him,” Anthony said of McCoy. “And we’re trying to do everything we can to support him because he’s really doing a hell of a job, and he’s been working 24/7 on this for well over a year.” Without the bond money, Anthony said, the time to trial for civil cases will exceed the current 16 months. Most harmed would be family law and juvenile cases, he said. In his letter, Anthony refuted recent statements by Mary Ann O’Malley, presiding judge of the Contra Costa County, Calif., Superior Court. In a letter published Feb. 4 in Sacramento’s Capitol Weekly, O’Malley called the proposal to shift the construction bond money to Los Angeles Superior Court for operations “short sighted,” adding that 53 of the 58 presiding judges in California oppose the idea. She argued that the bonds would provide an economic stimulus in the form of 105,000 construction jobs. O’Malley co-authored the letter with Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. The Judicial Council also has opposed the idea of raiding the construction bonds for Los Angeles. “I don’t think this should be an argument pitting the construction program against the need to fund the courts,” said William Vickrey, the council’s administrative director, adding that it was “way too early” to propose delving into the construction funds. Furthermore, he said, “the Judicial Council does not have the authority to independently reallocate that money.” Last year, the Judicial Council allocated $159 million in additional funds to all of California’s courts. Court officials in Los Angeles have yet to discuss the layoffs with the leaders of two unions whose members would be affected — the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Arnella Sims, a member of the executive board of SEIU Local 721, which represents employees in the clerk’s offices and court reporters, said that the first round of layoffs would probably hit temporary and contract workers, with the second round affecting traffic courts the most. “We’ve been working with the court for several months, having discussions about potential cost savings, and we believe that the court has pretty much cut everything that they could,” Sims said. “We believe, however, that the layoffs don’t need to occur because the Administrative Office of the Courts has money sitting in the trial court trust fund, which is the fund for court operations, that could be used to help the L.A. court.” Right now, she said, that fund has more than $100 million available. When asked about those funds, Philip Carrizosa, spokesman for the Judicial Council, said “Monies in the Trial Court Trust Fund are absolutely needed for other projects to keep the trial courts functioning, including financial and personnel services and ongoing and developing court technology.” He added, however, that the Judicial Council plans to lobby for more money before the California Legislature during the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

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