The vast Los Angeles County court system, known worldwide for its many high-profile cases, is about to see a huge budget cut that will close dozens of courtrooms, including one used by Judge Lance Ito, its most famous jurist.
After 56 courtrooms go dark by June 30, Ito, who presided over the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995, will be reassigned to handle cases for which no other judge is available.
Presiding Judge Lee Edmon and Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley announced the slashing of $30 million from the nation's largest court system that includes laying off 100 non-courtroom employees and eliminating court reporters for civil cases.
Civil litigants will be required to hire their own stenographers if they want to preserve the court record.
`"We sincerely regret having to reduce our services to the public," said Edmon, who predicted longer delays in getting civil cases to trial and administrative problems for judges who must share courtrooms and staff.
"Some judges may have to take notes on the evidence," Edmon said.
Edmon noted the courts will still be required to abide by speedy trial provisions in criminal cases, although 24 criminal courtrooms will close, including Ito's department, which handled complex, lengthy trials.
"He's a utility player for us," Wesley said. "There are not many people that can handle every kind of case. ... When we need him, we know he will step in."
Also under the cuts, informal juvenile traffic courts that allowed youngsters to resolve minor cases while staying out of delinquency court will be eliminated.
"This is a very sad day for our court and county," Edmon said. "We will lose dedicated court employees, some who have been here over 30 years."
"We've been through difficult times," added Wesley. "But, hands down, it has never been this bad."
The cutbacks are part of $650 million statewide that were mandated under the California budget and came in addition to $70 million in reductions made earlier in Los Angeles County, including 329 layoffs.
The county has nearly five million legal filings each year. In fiscal year 2011, 4,792 trials were handled by the county's courts, which have 5,400 employees and 600 bench officers.
Gov. Jerry Brown has warned of $125 million in further cuts if voters don't approve a temporary sales and income tax increase on the November ballot.
Edmon dreads such a scenario.
"We are already rationing justice," she said.