Valley Courthouses Part of Statewide Closures

September 16, 2009 8:18:25 PM PDT
California's budget crisis has hit the court system. Statewide furloughs forced the closure of all courthouses on Wednesday. The courthouse furloughs come on the busiest day of the week in Fresno County. Over 11-hundred cases had to be delayed. Wednesday's closure caught many by surprise. One by one they pulled on the door handle and peered into the dark lobby. A note let people know the Fresno County Courthouse would be closed the third Wednesday of every month. Ruth Zarate of Fresno said, "A lot of people are coming in and it's an inconvenience. I wasn't notified it was being closed." Zarate took the bus downtown to take care of her traffic tickets.

This was the first of ten statewide closure days designed to save the state money. Presiding Judge A. Bruce Smith said, "This is a momentous occasion. I can't recall ever a mandated statewide closure of the court system."

Judge Smith says the furloughs couldn't have come on a worse day. The court's heaviest caseload comes on Wednesday. He explained, "In the criminal departments we have the arrests of say Thursday after midnight, Friday Saturday, Sunday - those come up for arraignment on Wednesday so it's usually a mad dash trying to arraign defendants."

As a result, some inmates remain in an already crowded county jail an extra day. Criminal cases in Fowler, Reedley and Kingsburg are only heard on Wednesdays.

Despite the furlough Judge Smith says 12 of Fresno County's 49 judicial officers still showed up for work to conduct research for upcoming cases and look over jury instructions.

All day long a steady stream of frustrated people looked to settle their legal affairs at the courthouse. Abdul Hassan of Fresno said, "I'm trying to get this business taken care of but now it's closed so we have to come back tomorrow."

The furlough also affected the Breezeway snack bar, which relies on courthouse customers and people reporting for jury duty. The woman who runs the stand figures the closure cost her several hundred dollars.

Judge Smith figures the courthouse closures may save the state over 70-million dollars. But now the court must fit five days of work into just four days.

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