Inyo County courts are facing drastic cutbacks due to state budget constraints.
Effective Oct. 17, the Bishop and Independence offices of the Superior Court of California will begin reducing hours of service for the public and will be reducing its staff by 40 percent. These cuts are taking place as the State Administrative Offices of the Courts prepares to move forward on a multi-million dollar court construction project in Bishop.
Before the reductions take effect, residents have an opportunity to comment by mail to Tammy L. Grimm, court executive officer, Superior Court of California, Inyo County, 301 W. Line St., Bishop, CA 93514, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org  or by fax, (760) 872-4984.
“Due to severe, permanent budget reductions and a reduced workforce, the Superior Court of California, County of Inyo, will decrease available hours of public counter/in-person access as well as hours for public phone calls,” Grimm said. “Through attrition, the court clerks’ office staff will be reduced by 40 percent as of December 2013, with no replacement staff being hired due to fiscal constraints.”
Grimm said that the 40 percent reduction in staff translates to 8.75 staff positions. She said the positions being eliminated are all court clerk staff members except for one, an Information Technologies assistant.
She also said that she believes the reduction in staff can be achieved without any layoffs or furloughs.
“The current savings of those who have vacated their positions is $139,880.64 in salaries only,” Grimm said. “We anticipate four current employees will voluntarily retire this fiscal year, which will be an additional cost savings of $229,430.35 in cost savings.”
While the court is reducing staff hours, Grimm said that the number of filings that the court receives is consistent and will not be going down with the reductions.
“I cannot stress enough the strain that the loss of employees presents to the Court and the staff that remain,” Grimm said. “Everyone is currently doing the job of two people to keep access to justice and the court process available. With the loss of four more essential individuals that we cannot replace means more stress and backlog. We are doing our best with constant decreases in funding. We anticipate that this is how things will be for at least two years, but we do hope that there will be a silver lining eventually, and the economy improves, so that the courts can receive the proper funding that it needs to operate. Staff is essential to the success of this Court, and their work and spirit is what makes this Court so effective.”
According to Grimm, the courts will be reducing its hours for phone calls regarding traffic issues. She explained that traffic calls will be answered between 1 and 4 p.m. “A message will greet court users who call in at alternate times directing them as to when to call back, or how to access the court via email,” Grimm said. “Court users will be alerted, in the court’s call tree, that these reduced telephone hours are due to staffing reductions and court service operational limitations.”
Also, public counters where court clerks help serve residents will be open from 8:30 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Grimm added the caveat that the clerks offices may be closed from 8-8:30 a.m., noon-1 p.m. and 4-5 p.m. “when clerks are unavailable.”
The courts will also establish document and payment drop boxes at the courts, which will allow residents to turn in court documents while the clerks offices are not staffed.
“All drop boxes will be checked throughout the day and at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. each court business day,” Grimm said. “Documents and payments will be received and filed and entered the day they are dropped. However, any document or payment dropped after 4 p.m. will be received and filed or applied to the account the following court business day.”
Grimm also said that Department 4, in Bishop, will close its clerk counter from noon to the close of business each Friday and Departments 1 and 3, in Independence, will close their counters from noon to the close of business each Wednesday.
Grimm said the cuts also mean that payments and document processing will be delayed. “Payments, traffic school and citations may take up to 10 business days (from the date received by the citing agency) to enter,” Grimm said. She added that courtesy notices, the court’s phone tree and the court’s website will provide information to give residents an idea of how long processing will take.
“We’re living on our reserves right now, and we have to expend that money this year,” Grimm said, explaining that local courts received a “minimal amount of money” from the State Administrative Offices of the Court his year, and are expecting to see only $600,000 for court operations next year.
Inyo County courts currently have $1,428,373 in reserves. The governor has signed legislation ordering the courts to deplete all reserve accounts by June 30, 2014 with the exception of 1 percent of each court’s fund balance and those funds that are restricted.
“While the calculation of what 1 percent is based upon has not yet been completely determined by the state, the Superior Court of California, County of Inyo anticipates that 1 percent will equal approximately $21,000,” Grimm said. “Restricted funds that are permitted to be kept in the account are $475,606.” That means Inyo County courts must spend a little less than $1 million out of its reserves this year, or that money goes back to the state on June 30, 2014, she explained.
“These permanent service reductions … are necessary for the courts to continue to provide continued and effective court operations amidst the fiscal crisis that was imposed upon the judicial branch.” Grimm said.
As the local court offices prepare to absorb the impacts of the cuts, Grimm said the AOC is wrapping up appraisals on several pieces of property in Bishop to prepare for site selection for the construction of a new court facility. Grimm said the appraisals should be complete in September, at which time the state office will begin site selection for the new building.
Grimm said site selection should be completed in November.