There is an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. County residents with issues before the Superior Court will soon find out whether that is true: Deep budget cuts have forced closures and cutbacks, with the truncated services consolidated in Martinez. The upshot, according to court officials: long delays.
Concord residents can expect dramatic changes, court officials said. The Concord Courthouse will close its doors to the public come Jan. 1. Small claims, unlawful detainer, domestic violence, and civil harassment cases will shift to Martinez. All Concord traffic cases will be transferred to the Walnut Creek Court.
A first round of changes took effect Thursday and will have ramifications throughout the county as cases take much longer to percolate through the system.
“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.
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. 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.