CHINO - It was quiet at the Chino Superior Court on Friday afternoon, with only a trickle of people coming in and out, paying traffic tickets and other fines.
But no cases were being tried in the building's three courtrooms: The last case being tried there wrapped up on Christmas Eve, and the courthouse will shut its doors for the last time on New Years Eve.
"Once it started, we realized it definitely was (the final case), because all of the other cases there were continued or resolved," said San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Will Wooten. He tried that case, in which a male massage therapist was accused of sexual battery against a female customer.
"The week before Christmas, people started going on vacation. It was a matter of trying to resolve what we could."
The courthouse is being shut to partially plug a $13.5 deficit in the county court system's budget. The state court system has faced $1.14 billion in cuts in the past four fiscal years.
The Chino courthouse reviews, files and prosecutes between 5 and 6 percent of the criminal cases in the county. About 20,000 annual infraction cases will be divided up between the Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana courthouses, along with the 4,000 misdemeanor cases filed in Chino each year. The court's 700 annual felony cases will be handled in Rancho Cucamonga.
Three judges at the Rancho Cucamonga courthouse who had retired but continued to serve have been let go to make room for the Chino-based judges.
"The budget for the state is the problem, not the county," Wooten said.
"We were hoping the leaders, the politicians, the mayor, the City Council, would try to keep the courthouse open more than they really did.
The library plan didn't turn out to be feasible and the building's fate remains up in the air.
Wooten has been a district attorney since 2001, and in Chino since 2007.
On Wednesday, he'll be moving back to the Rancho Cucamonga courthouse, with the rest of the district attorney's staff, where he originally started. He also got the new assignment he'd hoped for; the biggest inconvenience for him will be a commute 25 minutes longer.
"It worked out for me, but the court staff are the ones who bore the brunt of this."
The staff are being divided between locations as far-flung as the Joshua Tree/Morongo Basin courthouse.
Security guard Cynthia Keser worked at the courthouse for five years, running visitors through the metal detector and keeping an eye on who comes and goes from the building.
On Wednesday, "I'm going to Rancho, and my partner's going to Fontana," she said.
The staff heard over the summer that the courthouse would be closed down, but the advance warning hasn't made things easier.
"When you're doing a job you really like and enjoy coming to, it's like your heart being torn in two," she said.
The courthouse staff had a farewell lunch at a French/Basque restaurant in Chino three weeks ago, and shed a few tears then, she said.
"When you go to work, it's a life commitment," Keser said.
Keser also worried about the hardship for local residents, who will be driving to the Rancho Cucamonga courthouse starting on Wednesday, as will she.
"They threatened a protest, but I didn't see anyone protesting out there," she said.
An attorney in casual clothes gave Keser a farewell hug as she left the Chino courthouse for the last time.
"It's like losing a part of your family because we're all getting split up," she said.
"It was a great place to work and we'll really miss it and hopefully they'll reopen it one day," Wooten said.
Staff writer Lori Fowler contributed to this story.
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