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The Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court will lay off 329 employees and close 17 courtrooms in response to cuts tied to California’s continuing budget crisis, administrators announced on Tuesday. The layoffs will be the largest in the state involving court workers. They won’t be the last, either, as court officials predicted that as many as 500 more people could be laid off and 50 more courtrooms closed by September. The 17 courtrooms being closed spread throughout Los Angeles County and include the main civil and criminal buildings in downtown Los Angeles and at Central Civil West, which handles complex litigation and multidistrict litigation. Additional courtrooms are being closed in Malibu, Hollywood, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles and San Fernando. The targeted courtrooms handle criminal, family law, general and limited civil cases, complex litigation and small claims. “We have explored every financial scenario before taking this action, but more than 80 percent of our budget goes to salaries and benefits, which forces today’s drastic measures,” Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy Jr. said in written statement. He added that the court’s deficit could reach $140 million during the next four years, which could necessitate the elimination of 1,800 staff positions. The announcement of the layoffs, which become effective on April 1, capped months of political wrangling between McCoy and California Chief Justice Ronald George over whether to spend state funds earmarked for courthouse construction to pay court operating expenses in Los Angeles County. In response to the layoffs, the Judicial Council of California, which oversees court funding, said in a prepared statement that one of its committees had asked the Administrative Office of the Courts to review the Los Angeles “cost reduction measures.” The review should be completed later this week, but based on preliminary information, the Judicial Council said that it considered the layoffs “excessive” and “unnecessary.” “Based on that preliminary review, it is clear that the reductions affecting the judicial branch as a whole are not sustainable in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the state,” the Judicial Council said. “The cuts will require an unacceptable reduction in access to justice for the public. There will not be sufficient resources to address all the criminal, family, and business matters that come to the courts. However, based on this preliminary review, it appears that the cost reduction measures as proposed by L.A. Superior Court are excessive; much of the planned layoffs at this time appear unnecessary, from a financial perspective.” The Los Angeles layoffs are the largest for a single court system in California. Last year, the Alameda County Superior Court laid off 73 workers; San Mateo County Superior Court laid off 28; and Placer County Superior Court laid off 40. Last month, the Marin County Superior Court laid off six employees. The last time Los Angeles Superior Court laid off workers was in 2002, when 150 employees lost their jobs and 31 courtrooms were closed due to a budget deficit of $57.3 million. Including 156 voluntary departures, the number of jobs being eliminated in Los Angeles is 485. The positions affected include clerks, secretaries, computer system workers, supervisors, court reports and child advocacy specialists. The Los Angeles Superior Court has 5,400 workers and operates 580 courtrooms. The court’s 430 judges are not expected to be greatly affected, since many of the courtrooms are occupied by commissioners and referees who are court employees, said Allan Parachini, spokesman for the Los Angeles courts. “Down the line, the number of commissioners and referees we use may change,” he said. Other measures taken effective on March 16 include: • Eliminating telephone operator service for traffic court. • Reducing traffic night court sessions from twice to once per month at the Metropolitan Courthouse. • Closing the clerk’s office on the fifth floor of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, the county’s downtown criminal courts building. • Eliminating the unit at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center that does criminal name searches, primarily for employers. • Eliminating financial support and supervising personnel for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program at the Edward D. Edelman Children’s Court.

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