gavel.jpgSan Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein Wednesday announced an emergency $2.5 million state funding deal that will significantly reduce drastic court closures and layoffs announced in July.

Feinstein said the agreement with the state Administrative Office of the Courts, known as the AOC, means the court will be able to keep 11 more civil courtrooms open.

The San Francisco court will have to close 14 rather than 25 of its 63 civil and criminal courtrooms and lay off 15 percent instead of 40 percent of its 480 employees, she said.

The agreement must be approved by the California Judicial Council, the governing body of the state court system, at a meeting on Sept. 9.

In addition to the $2.3 million in emergency funding, the court will accept an existing $650,000 grant from the AOC to help fund its two complex litigation departments, Feinstein said.

“This agreement represents a true compromise with the AOC to help the San Francisco Superior Court lessen the blow on access to justice,” Feinstein said.

“We would be able to offer more access to the civil justice system, but not as much as San Franciscans deserve,” she said.

The original cuts were announced by Feinstein on July 18 in response to reduced state funding stemming from California’s budget crisis. The cuts are primarily in civil courts because state law gives priority to criminal cases.

The San Francisco court faced a $6.23 million deficit for the current fiscal year and an expected cumulative $20.4 million deficit over the next three years.

The court is undergoing deeper cuts than some other superior courts in the state partly because it previously dipped into reserve funds to avoid layoffs and is no longer able to do so.

In addition, an audit of the court conducted by the Judicial Council last year also noted some financial management problems, which court officials said they would correct.

The agreement with the AOC requires the court to implement best practices for collecting delinquent fees and fines and to continue to try to implement cost-savings measures, Feinstein said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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