In early March of 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the court system in Los Angeles County is scheduled to lay off an estimated 350 employees in June. This layoff will result in more than 50 courtrooms being restructured. Unfortunately, it is not the first reduction over the past two years. Staff has already been reduced by 10 percent-around 500 employees-as a result of layoffs prompted by deep cuts in state funding.
“Understaffed courts could cause delays and added expense for plaintiffs,” said California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
Among those likely to be cut in order to save an estimated $30 million in staffing costs include courtroom assistants, court reporters and other non-courtroom staff. The cuts will affect all matters handled within the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, including juvenile courts, and the presiding judge drafted a four page memo indicating that the “changes will affect every judicial officer and staff member–as well as the millions of attorneys and litigants who depend upon our courts to deliver justice.”
The ability of the court system to function, however, depends upon people actually having access to courts. If a plaintiff has to wait five years before his or her personal injury lawsuit is heard due to backlogs in the court system, he or she has no recourse over that long period of time and he or she doesn’t have the money necessary to pay bills or support family if the injury caused temporary or permanent disability.
These budget cuts and resulting layoffs could create a situation where injured plaintiffs have to wait years to have a civil lawsuit heard and where people are deprived of access to not just the legal services they need, but also to justice. In fact, when similar severe budget cuts occurred in San Francisco, The Bay Citizen newspaper warned that ‘Courtmageddeon’ was coming and a spokeswoman for the court indicated that “We’re basically talking about the suspension of most civil actions in court.”
In Los Angeles, it is unclear exactly what the full extent of the consequences will be. However, the Los Angeles Times did report that one result of the budget cuts is that court reporters paid for by the court would no longer be available in civil cases. Litigants may be expected to bear the cost of a court reporter as well as to bear other new costs that were once footed by the court. This could mean that not only is legal assistance delayed for residents throughout Los Angeles, California, but also that justice will become more expensive when a plaintiff finally does have his or her day in court.
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