Deep budget cuts have forced closures and cutbacks in the Superior Court, with the truncated services to be consolidated in Martinez.
The first round of changes took effect Thursday and will have ramifications throughout the county, bringing delays in domestic violence, juvenile law, family law, criminal, traffic, and civil cases, court officials said. Additional cuts are slated for the first of the year.
“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,” Presiding Judge Diana Becton said in a press statement
“We look forward to restoring these services as soon as the State allots sufficient money to the judicial branch that we may do so," the statement says. "The full and fair administration of justice requires no less.”
With the family law court in Pittsburg shuttered, east county residents will now trek to Martinez to have their cases heard.
Other changes include these:
- The juvenile law courtroom in Richmond will close, and residents will have to travel to Martinez to have their cases heard.
- Court clerks’ office hours have been sliced to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Self-help services at the Spinetta Family Law Courthouse are also now only available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., with fewer workshops for litigants representing themselves.
The court closure is one of the first major changes set to take effect this fiscal year as the court grapples with major state cuts to its budget. Under California's budget for this fiscal year, the county court's budget plan reduces the court's operating budget by $7 million, officials said.
Court leaders, staff, police, attorneys, government officials and the public attended a series of meetings to decide how to allocate the multimillion-dollar cuts, 25 percent of the court's overall budget, leading up to the court's adoption of its new budget at the end of August.
Police Chief Gary Peterson said it is premature to discuss the effects the changes will have on Martinez. He will meet with incoming presiding judge Barry Goode and city manager Philip Vince after Thanksgiving to hash out what the increased traffic to the Martinez courts will mean, he said.
Beginning Jan. 1, the one Martinez civil trial department will close, and cases will shift to the remaining Martinez civil trial departments. This will result in increased calendar congestion and will cause delays in hearings, trials, court decisions, and orders, court officials said.
Also in January, the Concord Courthouse will close its doors to the public. All Concord Traffic cases will be transferred to the Walnut Creek Court. The remaining case types (small claims, unlawful detainer, domestic violence, and civil harassment) will be transferred to Martinez.
Only traffic cases from Concord and Walnut Creek will be heard in Walnut Creek; criminal, small claims, unlawful detainer, domestic violence, and civil harassment cases will be transferred to Martinez.
The court is seeking additional funds for interpreter services in domestic violence cases.
Other changes in December and January will include reduced court reporting and interpreter services and either the consolidation or elimination of specialty courts such as domestic violence court and homeless court, among other cuts, according to court officials.