As a result of complex state budget cuts, the Contra Costa Superior Court recently announced its final budget reduction plan, which will have a significant impact on service levels for years to come. Use of the Walnut Creek courthouse will change significantly, as officials reroute various cases.
"The court deeply regrets having to make these changes. However since the state has cut the court's budget and taken our reserves we no longer have sufficient funds to provide access to justice throughout the county or in a timely manner," said Diana Becton, presiding judge of the court.
Over the past three fiscal years, the county has reduced its budget by $7.5 million but needed to make an additional $7 million in permanent cuts. According to a release, the state is taking over $8 million in court reserves that would allow it to operate at an "appropriate level during periods of budget cuts" -- a reduction that amounts to approximately 25 percent of the court budget.
After a week of discussion and public input, the Contra Costa Superior Court announced a reduced services plan on Aug. 28. Under the new budget, six courtrooms will be closed and one reduced to four days a week:
- Only traffic cases will be heard in Walnut Creek. Criminal, small claims, unlawful detainer, domestic violence and civil harassment claims will be transferred to Martinez, Pittsburg or Richmond. Two commissioners will hear traffic cases on a rotating basis in Walnut Creek and Richmond.
- The Concord courthouse will close its doors to the public and traffic cases will be heard in Walnut Creek. The remaining case types will be transferred to Martinez, Pittsburg or Richmond.
- Beginning Oct. 22, the family law courtroom and justice center in Pittsburg will be shut down; cases will be reassigned to commissioners in Martinez. According to the release, it will now take longer to get a divorce or a decision on child custody.
- The child support courtroom in Martinez will be closed once a week; officials said the closure would result in delays in receiving child support orders.
- Effective Dec. 31, juvenile law courtrooms in Pittsburg and Richmond will close and transfer cases to a judge in Martinez. The court is deciding whether a limited number of juvenile cases will be heard at those locations, east and west county residents.
- After Dec. 31, one civil trial department and the civil discovery/ex parte courtroom will close in Martinez. Officials expect increased calendar congestion and delays as matters heard by the department and courtroom will be handed to Martinez civil trial divisions.
Additionally, court reporting services will be significantly reduced beginning Dec. 31 in general civil, family and probate courtrooms. Specialty courts, such as juvenile and adult drug court and truancy court, will be consolidated or eliminated. Self-help workshops and services for unrepresentative immigrants will be reduced.
The clerk's office will also be affected by cuts and beginning Oct. 1, will have reduced hours. Interpreters in domestic violence matters heard in family court will only be provided as funding allows; the court is seeking grant funds from the state to pay for these services.
"We look forward to restoring these services as soon as the state allots sufficient money to the judicial branch," Becton said. "The full and fair administration of justice requires no less."