Fed Judges Let Stand LA Court Closures

A decade of budget cuts, layoffs, reduced hours and closure of 20 of the Los Angeles Superior Court’s 58 courthouses has burdened the poor and disabled by forcing them to go farther to fight evictions and child custody disputes.

Despite a decade of state budget cuts that restricted access to a handful of “hub courts” that handle evictions, imposing court reopenings on LA Superior Courts, is not something federal courts have authority to do, a federal appeals court ruled.

“Out of respect for the independence of state judiciaries, a federal court cannot substitute its judgment for LASC’s resource allocation choices under these circumstances,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Two individuals and a number of non-profit groups filed a class action to challenge the LASC consolidation plan that would limit tenant eviction cases to a few “hub courts” in the sprawling Los Angeles courts.  They argued the court closures fell disproportionately on the poor and disabled who had to travel long distances, usually on public transit, with short deadlines to fight eviction and no legal representation in such cases.

LASC serves over 10 million people and is the largest trial court in the U.S. But after two recessions and a decade of budget cuts, starting with $110 million between 2008 and 2012, courts were closed, employees furloughed and filing fees increased.

Then in 2013, the state legislature cut another $56 million in the operating budget.  The courts abandoned the neighborhood court concept and created a series of hub courts for high volume cases, including evictions.  Layoffs, service cuts, court closures and increased court fees continued.

But the appeals court “serious access to justice concerns” were raised by the lawsuit but nonetheless held that precedent required the federal courts not to intrude on the administration of state courts.

The opinion by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen was joined by Judge Ferdinand Fernandez and visiting Judge Barrington Parker of the 2nd Circuit in New York.

Case: Miles v. Wesley, No. 13-55620

 

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