Ongoing state budget cuts to trial courts are to blame for San Mateo County having to cut as many as 25 positions and close five courtrooms in its South San Francisco and San Mateo branches, the Superior Court of San Mateo County announced Wednesday.
The reductions include the elimination of five court commissioner positions, as many as 21 staff positions, the closure of five courtrooms and suspending the majority of court services in the South San Francisco and San Mateo branches, according to Court Executive Officer John Fitton.
Should trial court funding not be restored the elimination of the court commissioners could happen in July and the remaining workforce reductions are slated for September.
The latest round of cuts is just another blow to an already tightened trial court budget in San Mateo County. The county has so far reduced its workforce by more than 30 percent and made several reductions in many areas including clerk hours, traffic and small claims, family court and complex litigation court in Redwood City.
"This is unprecedented, and we've been saying this since 2008 and it continues to get worse," Fitton said.
Trial courts throughout the state have suffered state budget cuts of more than $1 billion over the past five years. Courts throughout the state are being forced to severely cut costs, in some cases shut down entire courthouses, not just courtrooms.
Presiding Judge Robert D. Foiles said it is "extremely disappointing" that the governor's January budget fails to restore vital funding to the trial courts.
Fitton says his office has been planning prudently and responsibly for the cuts and plans to make every attempt at influencing the governor and state legislators to halt cuts to the state's judicial branch, which makes up about 2 percent of the state budget.
"Why it's gotten hit so disproportionately, I can't speak to," Fitton said.
The San Mateo County Superior Court has eliminated 120 positions since 2008 and now consists of 265 employees, not counting judges. Of those 120 positions, only 27 were through layoffs three years ago, Fitton said.
Trial courts protect the public -- public rights, public freedom and public safety," Fitton said. "We don't want to lose our valuable staff and the public is not well served by this -- we protect public safety, we protect the law."
Commissioners and court employees have been made aware of the forecast and in the meantime, Fitton plans to work collaboratively with other justice partners to encourage state legislators to protect court funding.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," he said.
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