The Los Angeles Superior Court recently announced plans to cut spending by $30 million this fiscal year - the most significant reduction of services in its history.

But in the coming fiscal year, officials are preparing to tackle an even large number - possibly up to $85 million - in an effort to stay afloat.

"Everything we did in June was to achieve a savings of $30 million," said Mary Hearn, Los Angeles Superior Court.

"We are now looking at, on low end, $55 to $56 million up to $85 million. Minimally, we are almost doubling what we did in June, possibly tripling it."

Los Angeles County court system officials earlier this month announced a plan to close all courtrooms in 10 community courthouses starting June 30, 2013, in an effort to get a handle on a looming deficit.

The courthouses affected include the San Pedro branches on Seventh Street and on Beacon Street as well branches in Avalon, Beverly Hills, Huntington Park, Pomona, Whittier, Malibu and the David Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in Los Angeles.

The courtroom closures on June 30 will prompt an unknown number of layoffs involving court clerks, court reporters and other staffers, Hearn said.

Specifics have yet to be released regarding where cases and employees will be transferred, but Hearn used the example of small claims cases to illustrate the level of cuts expected.

"We plan to regionalize certain types of cases," she said. "There are 26 courthouses where small claims matters are heard. After the reorganization proposal, we're planning to have six locations where small claim cases are heard.

"That's one of the parts of the plan - reduce the numbers."

The closures take in an array of court activity ranging from criminal and civil cases, probate, small claims, juvenile justice and landlord-tenant disputes.

Although some administrative work might still be offered in the buildings - including accepting traffic payments - cases would be moved to other open courthouses, Hearn said.

Along with the reorganization will come "great delays," officials said.

Hearn warned about longer times for divorces and civil courts. It will also take longer to process paperwork and there will be longer lines at the courthouses that remain open.

In addition to closures and reorganization, the court also anticipates eliminating part-time court reporters in most civil courts, eliminating all non-mandatory elements of the court's Alternative Dispute Resolution programs, and significant reduction to the Court's Dependency Mediation program, said Lee Smalley Edmon, presiding judge of the county's Superior Court system.

"The impacts of these changes will dwarf anything that this court has seen," Edmon said.

"There is no way to maintain the current level of service to the public in the face of state-mandated reductions of nearly one-fifth of the court's discretionary funding."

Edmon went on to say the courts can no longer provide a range of services across the county.

Instead, litigants, attorneys, witnesses, law enforcement officers and others will have to travel far distances for hearings.

"It's going to already burden the poor judges and clerks that have been working very hard," said Antonio Bestard, a veteran criminal defense attorney who is based in Pomona.

Witnesses and jurors "are going to have to commute half an hour to an hour to get to court in the morning."

Los Angeles Police Department Commander Andrew Smith elaborated on how court closures could effect law enforcement officers.

One concern is losing on-duty police officers to travel time - they will have to drive further to pick up and drop off evidence at courthouses, which would take them away from securing their divisions.

"They're working but the longer they're traveling to court the more time they spend off the streets patrolling," Smith said.

But that's not even the major concern.

Smith is worried the additional miles will keep already-reluctant witnesses from trekking to the courthouse.

"We already lose court cases because some victims don't show up," Smith said. "A lot of people aren't willing to go that extra just to go to court and testify."

The California court system has had $1.1 billion in court cuts in the 2009-10 to 2012-13 fiscal years, officials said.

The state courts budget this fiscal year will see a reduction of about $600 million, which is a substantial amount of the multi-year cut, officials said.

Los Angeles County, which accounts for about a third of the total, will see cuts of about $217.1 million, Hearn said.

San Bernardino County - one of the most understaffed and under-resourced counties in the state - will be hit with nearly $23 million in cuts this fiscal year.

"This is not a ploy," Hearn said about Los Angeles County's operating plan, referencing the cuts across the state.

"We're back at the starting point again, having to spend the last of our court reserves."

Staff writer Larry Altman contributed to this report.


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