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Although threatened with layoffs of up to 25 percent two months ago, the San Francisco Superior Court staff is safe from job cuts — for now. “We’re not going to have to lay off anyone this year, at least so far,” court Chief Executive Officer Gordon Park-Li said Monday. But he said the 500-person court staff will have to continue its current 10 percent vacancy rate. That still puts San Francisco’s court system in a better position than the one in Los Angeles County, where drastic cost-cutting measures are under way. Kyle Christopherson, a spokesman for the L.A. County Superior Court, said Monday the court faces a $57 million deficit. Court officials plan to lay off 168 employees and may have to trim an additional 200 positions to stay within budget, he said. In San Francisco, Park-Li said the court is running a $430,000 deficit, which he says is manageable given the court’s strict no-new-hires policy. “We’ll be able to rely on attrition to cover the $430,000,” Park-Li said, meaning those who retire or quit won’t be replaced. With the state facing severe revenue shortages, courts were warned over the summer to expect less money from Sacramento. But with the state budget close to being finalized, the Administrative Office of the Courts said in August cuts would not be as deep as anticipated. Initially the state predicted all courts would have to cut back 5 percent across the board. That was revised Aug. 21 to 3.7 percent. In San Francisco, Park-Li said, “That gives us another $830,000, which means that we don’t have to cut more people.” At least as far as court budgets are concerned this year, smaller is better. With a 2002-2003 budget of $600 million, the Los Angeles court system has about 600 courtrooms, 613 judicial officers — such as judges and commissioners — and 5,800 employees. In comparison, the San Francisco court system has a $72 million budget for 2002-2003, with $62 million from the state and another $10 million from the city. It has 67 courtrooms, 65 judicial officers and about 500 employees. By not filling vacant jobs and terminating 17 temporary employees in October 2001, Park-Li said San Francisco has been able to keep its red ink down and all its employees on the payroll. More than 380 of the court’s clerks, support staff and court reporters will receive a 4 percent salary increase this year, pursuant to a previously negotiated contract, Park-Li said. They will also get more money to pay for health care costs. Nearly 100 attorneys, mediators, investigators and computer experts will get no raise, but will receive more money to meet their higher health care costs. However, three senior attorneys will get nearly a 10 percent raise. And another 70 to 80 supervisors, managers and administrators have an “opener” provision in their contract, which could mean a salary hike during the current fiscal year that ends June 30, Park-Li said. He also said San Francisco will receive $1.1 million in new state money to beef up security in the courts. The state security funds have allayed judges’ concerns that they would have to dip into their current operating funds to finance the new security arrangements, Park Li said. But the court executive said San Francisco’s courts still face an uncertain financial future. Unless the state’s tax collections improve markedly, Park-Li said, there likely will be deeper budget cuts and layoffs for the 2003-04 fiscal year. “We have to be prudent right now, since next year will be tougher than this year,” he said. “All the fat is gone.”

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