A crowd of union workers and advocates shut down a street in front of the County Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles today as part of a rally denouncing the planned closures of several regional courthouses.
Court officials have argued, however, that they had no alternatives in light of budget shortfalls.
Linda Dent, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, called the pending closures "the dumbest thing the government has ever done."
Responding to an estimated $56 million to $85 million budget deficit, Los Angeles Superior Court officials announced in November a series of cuts that would shutter the Pomona courthouse, which would affect Diamond Bar, Walnut, Claremont and La Verne.
Other courthouses scheduled to be shuttered include Beverly Hills, Huntington Park, Whittier, West Los Angeles, San Pedro, Long Beach and Catalina, as well as the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Courthouse.
Critics of the plan said the closures, scheduled to take effect July 1, will require people to travel longer distances to remaining courthouses and also increase workloads for court workers, lead to layoffs and delay cases.
"The people who are supposed to be in will be out, and the people who are supposed to be out will be in. ... Courts are very important," Dent said.
Speakers at the rally accused the court's judges of coming up with the plan unilaterally, without consulting employees and the public.
"The court's moving forward with this devastating plan without publicly disclosing other options they considered, why they chose this approach over others or even answering the most basic question about how much money is actually going to be saved," ACLU attorney David Sapp said.
"Low-income people will be priced out of access to courts, and people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted," he said. "What is an inconvenience to some results in outright exclusion to others."
A mock trial was performed at the rally, with a man dressed in a robe ordering judges to hold public hearings, meet with stakeholders and return with alternatives to closing the courthouses.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge David S. Wesley said earlier this year the court had "run out of options."
He noted that the county court system has shed 800 jobs in the last three years, and in the last year was operating on a budget that had already been reduced by $100 million. He said the state's budgeting decisions necessitated their decisions to close and consolidate courthouses.
"We are witnessing the dismantling of the Los Angeles justice system," Wesley said. "The sustained decline in state support for the California trial courts evidenced in the governor's budget proposal will prove crippling to our ability to provide adequate access to justice."
Story by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service