Members of the state Judicial Council voted today in San Francisco to continue the budget-tightening measure of monthly court closures, saying there were no better options.

The council of judges, attorneys and legislators, which enacts policy for the California courts, in September initiated court closures throughout the state on the third Wednesday of the month as a response to California’s economic crisis.

Despite pleas today from court employees who testified about the hardships the closures represent, the council approved continuing them at least until June. The council is expected to revisit possible further closures in the coming months.

The Administrative Office of the Courts estimates the 10 closure days between September and June will save the courts $63.3 million.

California Chief Justice Ronald George, who chairs the council, said the savings between February and June–estimated to be about $30 million–“outweighs the burdens, given the terrible exigencies we’re faced with.”

The council noted in its decision that it was “a top priority” to secure enough funding from the state to avoid closures in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The California courts were faced with a $414 million reduction to its $3.5 billion budget last year, according to Ronald Overholt, chief deputy director of the AOC.

“There was no silver bullet to be shot, to deal with cuts of that magnitude,” Overholt said.
Though the AOC recommended continuing the closures through June, Overholt said the AOC did not recommend court closures as an ongoing measure to fight the budget problems.

The AOC acknowledged courts have reported several difficulties because of the closures, including case backlogs, delays and long lines outside courthouses.

“Our court system is severely crippled, regardless of which way this body votes today,” court reporter Arnella Sims told the council.

“There just is not enough money coming from the state, and there won’t be for the foreseeable future,” Sims said.

In addition to long lines and delays, Sims warned of jail overcrowding and the potential for serious paperwork errors by overworked court employees.

“Furloughs and court closures are not the answer, and never were,” she said.

Other court employees spoke of delays for police in securing arrest and search warrants, minors being detained and kept in foster care longer, and frustrated people taking time off from work and showing up to a closed courthouse.

“The first duty of the court system is to be open and accessible to the public,” court interpreter Tim Brandon said.

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