Nevada County courts struggle to keep doors open |

Nevada County courts struggle to keep doors open

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; The state’s budget impasse and fiscal nightmare took five more victims at the Nevada County courthouse this week, as court officials laid off 7 percent of their workforce.

Meanwhile, six Nevada County judges signed a letter to state officials asking why California’s court bureaucracy was not sharing in the and#8220;pain of the shrinkingand#8221; budget.

In that letter, sent to the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), Nevada County Superior Court Presiding Judge Sean Dowling expressed frustration that the large state oversight agency and#8212; with more than 1,000 employees working from offices in San Francisco and Sacramento and#8212; was recruiting for more than 50 positions at a time when most of the state’s 58 county courthouses under its jurisdiction were laying off employees and cutting hours.

and#8220;Leadership requires that AOC do more with less, as all trial courts are being forced to do in these troubled economic times,and#8221; wrote Dowling. He went on to ask the state agency’s director to and#8220;share information about its own budget adjustments and sacrifices with the trial courts before imposing new burdens.and#8221;

Nevada County Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka said Friday that five courthouse employees, including Assistant Court Executive Officer Mike Glisson, were laid off.

The Superior Court of Nevada County, which includes criminal, family law, civil and juvenile courts, operated on an $8.1 million budget in the 2008-09 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

and#8220;We don’t know what our budget will be this year,and#8221; said Metroka. and#8220;We have been given notice that our budget will be reduced, but we don’t know how much of a reduction that will be.and#8221;

Over the last year, the Nevada County courthouse has reduced its workforce from 76 to 65 full-time employees.

and#8220;I do not anticipate more layoffs, because we have three employees who have announced their retirement at the end of this calendar year, which should give us enough leeway to make it through the end of the year,and#8221; said Metroka.

Metroka administers the court, with overall responsibility for its nonjudicial functions: Facilities, court security, information technology, human resources, accounting, jury commissioners and the court’s clerical staff.

Among the possible cost-cutting measures that may be imposed by the state include closing all court facilities one day each month; the third Wednesday of each month has been discussed.

and#8220;It will have an impact on our case backlog and potentially extend case processing time,and#8221; said Metroka. A Wednesday courthouse closure also would disrupt trials, which typically are scheduled Tuesdays through Thursdays, Dowling said.

In the last year, the Nevada County courts processed more than 3,000 civil cases and almost 5,000 criminal cases. Employees handled nearly 20,000 infractions and#8212; including traffic tickets and building code violations.

Following the latest round of layoffs, Metroka said the work will need to be and#8220;redistributedand#8221; among the remaining employees. Some court services may need to be cut, he added.

In his letter to state court officials, Dowling also expressed concern with a proposed 13 percent cut in the courthouse security funding at a time and#8220;when the court is already well below the AOC’s minimum security standards.and#8221;

Those cuts would and#8220;increase the risks to all citizens who enter our aged courthouse and make our courthouse a more dangerous environment for our employees and judicial officers,and#8221; Dowling wrote.

Dowling also reminded AOC officials the layoffs and#8220;are a very personal thing in a small community,and#8221; because and#8220;we know each and every one of our employees.and#8221;

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