Two San Bernardino County supervisors and court officials have had an initial meeting to talk about the dire shape of the local court system.

The meeting, called by the Board of Supervisors' new members, James Ramos and Robert Lovingood, focused primarily on the impending closure of the Barstow, Big Bear Lake and Needles courts

The supervisors and other attendees on Thursday discussed possible ways to mitigate the impact to residents in the affected areas.

"We feel like we have partners right now in our efforts to make real, positive changes (for the people) in the county who so desperately need it," said Marsha Slough, the county's presiding judge.

The closure of the courthouses in Barstow, Needles and Big Bear Lake, scheduled for May 6, are intended to close an operating shortfall by the end of this fiscal year.

As part of the closure of all four courtrooms at the Barstow courthouse, 22 positions will be eliminated, according to court officials.

The closures are part of a second phase of operational cuts, officials said.

The first phase of operational changes in San Bernardino County courts was announced in July.

Those actions included the closure of the Chino courthouse, which took effect Jan. 1, reductions of the court clerk's office hours countywide, and reductions of administrative staff.

Within a week of taking office, Ramos' office received a call from Slough saying that two courtrooms in his district would be closing, said Phil Paule, chief of staff for Ramos. Lovingood's district was also affected by the cuts.

"We wanted to look at what county options were out there to mitigate some closures," Paule said about calling the meeting.

While ideas were bounced around, nothing was concrete.

"It was just our very first meeting," Slough said. "We were laying the groundwork for future meetings."

But the group agreed to explore ideas and work toward short-term solutions and long-term goals.

Practical ideas tossed around were video-conference technology, which exists in some circumstances but has the potential to be expanded, and dedicating bus lines to citizens in rural areas who will have to travel farther once courthouses close, Paule said.

"Those are viable options," he said.

The long-term goal is to find a way to reinstate the funds that were cut at the state level, Slough said.

The next step is to conduct a work-study session later this month.

"So the whole Board (of Supervisors) can hear the presentation and suggest ideas for what the county can do," Paule said. "It's not just closing a courthouse - there are all these other outside effects."


Reach Lori via email, call her at 909-483-9378, or find her on Twitter at @IEcourtsNow.