State budget cuts continue to take its toll on the Riverside Superior Court. The court must deal with an expected $13 million shortfall for next fiscal year's budget. Officials have proposed closing one-judge courts in Temecula and Blythe. The Temecula court handles mostly civil, small claims and traffic matters. If it closes, people in the area will have to drive about 6 miles to the Southwest Justice Center. The Blythe Courthouse sees civil, small claims, family law, criminal and traffic matters. The community there faces huge repercussions because the next closest courthouse is 100 miles away in Indio at the Larson Justice Center. "We have a population that can't travel, some who won't travel, and it could be a real fight," said Blythe City Manager David Lane. " But the hardship cannot be understated. The hardship, financially to folks, cannot be understated."
Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach continues to work with his staff to meet the needs of the area of about 23,000 people. The courthouse currently employs 14 people full time. Zellerbach has two attorneys who reside in Blythe. He says they won't be the only ones affected. He believes a closure will force law enforcement to keep an eye on high gas prices, instead of on the people they protect. "You're having deputies and police officers who should be patrolling the streets, who are now going to be tied up commuting, an hour and half each way to get to court," said Zellerbach.
People in Blythe aren't only worried about the long drive to the Larson Justice Center in Indio, they're also concerned it could create a bigger backlog at the court, forcing them to wait longer for trial. "Indio is already overworked, now we're going to add the Blythe court's work, to Indio as well which makes a bad situation worse," said Zellerbach.
District Attorney Zellerbach also said worst case scenario he wants to keep the Blythe Courthouse open at least a few days of the week. Still, it's a tough sell for the city. "Staying open two to three days a week is less worse," said Lane. "It's not the answer, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye."
He added, "We've been working very closely with Assemblyman Perez and Supervisor John Benoit and i can't thank both of them enough for going to bat for Blythe," said Lane.
It's still just as bad for longtime Blythe resident Casey George. She says the proposed court closure makes her lose faith in the place she calls home. "The courthouse is next, other things are going to shut down, and there's going to be nothing left," said George. "There's going to be nothing left here but a prison, and that's just sad."
No decision has been made yet. The public comment period ends on June 11. If you would like to voice your opinion, you can do so by:
MAIL: Riverside County Superior Court, P.O. Box 1547, Riverside, CA 92502
DEADLINE: Comments must be received by 5 P.M. June 11