Barstow, Big Bear And Needles Courthouses To Be Shuttered In May

(December 14)   The closure of the Chino Courthouse slated for January 1 will be inadequate to redress a $22 million shortfall plaguing the county court system in 2012-13, necessitating a round of even more substantial cuts to court operations in May.
The next phase of cuts will entail the closure of the Barstow, Big Bear and Needles courthouses, San Bernardino County Presiding Judge Marsha Slough announced this week.
The drawdown in money for San Bernardino County Superior Court, which employs 954 and runs on an annual budget of $105.2 million, is a direct function of the state’s $22 million reduction in funds provided to the county to operate its courts.
The San Bernardino County Superior Court has implemented a series of cost reduction measures intended to close most but not all of the resultant operating shortfall by the end of this fiscal year. The first phase of these operational changes included the closure of Chino Courthouse, effective January 1, 2013, reductions of court clerk’s office hours countywide and reductions of administrative staff.  Three retired judges who were handling cases for the county on assignment are being released at the end of December. Those changes, however netted the county courts a savings of only $9 million, necessitating another $13 million worth of economies.
Accordingly, effective May 6, 2013, the Barstow courthouse will close, shutting all four courtrooms and resulting in the loss of 22 positions. Also to be closed will be the Needles and Big Bear courthouses, which  had recently been reduced to three days per month. Civil and juvenile delinquency cases and dependency drug court will no longer be heard in the Victorville District but rather in other courthouses to provide room for other cases from Barstow that will now be heard in Victorville. Juvenile court will reduce its staff  by four positions. The court administration division will lay off three of its personnel. Court reporters will no longer be assigned to specific departments but will be assigned from a pool as needed, and the court will continue to provide court reporters for civil law and motion and trials, to the extent sufficient resources are available. Unlawful detainers and small claims currently heard in San Bernardino and unlawful detainers currently heard in Rancho Cucamonga will be heard in the Fontana Courthouse.
Prior to May 6, 2013, the juvenile court will no longer accept direct filings of informal juvenile matters. Those issues dealt with in those filings must be addressed directly through probation. Night court services will no longer be provided in the county.
Slough said that “In total, it is planned that these and related actions will result in a reduction of approximately 44 staff, and will save a projected $5.3 million per year. The severe funding cuts made to our budget result in the need to take these painful steps. We are cognizant of the impact that these actions will have upon the bar and citizens of this county who have business in the court, especially for people who live some distance from the remaining courthouses. The closure of Barstow, Needles, and Big Bear courthouses will mean that people living in a large swathe of San Bernardino County will no longer have a courthouse within a reasonable distance from their homes, leaving many facing hardships to get to court, given very limited public transportation and distances that can exceed three hours in driving time, each way. The simple fact is that we can no longer afford to support as many court locations, or support as many services as in the past.”
Court officials said that San Bernardino County is one of the most under-resourced court districts in the state. “Our court has been operating on a shoestring budget for many years. Now the state is taking away the shoe strings.” said Judge Larry Allen, the court’s assistant presiding judge.
In addition to the court’s funding problems, San Bernardino County’s court system faces the largest shortfall of judges of any county in the state. Based on the California Judicial Council’s statewide judicial needs study released on October 25, 2012,  San Bernardino County’s courts should have approximately 156 judicial officers, including both judges and commissioners, but currently has 91, a shortfall of 65 judges, or 42%. Thus, judges in San Bernardino face caseloads that are substantially larger than in most other jurisdictions in California.
“If and when the court receives adequate funding, it will be a court priority to reopen the Barstow Courthouse, in order to reestablish needed court access in that part of the county.” said Judge Slough.

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