Superior Court: lean budget means layoffs

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The Riverside County Superior Court will be trimming staff and possibly closing a couple of small courthouses in the upcoming fiscal year to stay within budget, it was announced today.

Presiding Judge Mark Cope said the 2013-14 fiscal year budget signed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown restored funding that had been slashed from state court operations over the last five years -- but the funding level is short of what's needed to maintain the status quo.

``Because the restoration of funding is not sufficient to cover operational expenses, additional staff reductions affecting every division in the Riverside County Superior Court will still be necessary,'' Cope said. ``This will involve positions in operations, management, administration, legal, human resources and information technology.''

The judge did not cite specific numbers of personnel who might be let go. However, he noted that the planned closures of the Blythe and Temecula courthouses were moving ahead.

The Blythe facility handles a small number of criminal matters, as well as civil actions, evictions and small claims cases. The Temecula courthouse handles mainly small claims and traffic cases.

County residents have until July 19 to send letters or emails to the Superior Court stating why they believe the facilities should remain operational.

The new state budget returned $60 million of the roughly $500-plus-million gouged out of state court operations since 2008 as California wrestled with billions of dollars in red ink. According to Cope, the infusion translates to roughly $5.3 million more in the local court budget for fiscal 2013-14, which begins Monday.

``While this is definitely positive news, the amount of restored funding is woefully inadequate to make up for five years of funding reductions ... which have reduced the operating budget of the Riverside County Superior Court by approximately $20 million,'' the judge said.

He vowed the court would do what it can to ``secure critical funding necessary to keep courthouses open and public counters staffed.''

The judge said it was ``disheartening'' that even while the Superior Court will have to cut its payroll, ``state employees are slated to receive pay increases'' and furloughs for unionized workers in state government had been canceled.

The governor, along with the lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and the state's 120 lawmakers, will receive 5 percent pay hikes in 2013-14. 

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