Seven courthouses to close in Fresno County

FRESNO, Calif.

The closed courts handled mostly traffic and misdemeanor cases, and they served thousands of people. Now, every court case will be in Fresno, and a lot of people have already been put out.

A locked door greeted Rogelio Chaparro as he arrived at the Selma courthouse Monday. The sign on the door told him the courthouse closed and to handle his $1500 ticket, he'd have to make the 25-minute drive to Downtown Fresno.

"It's far away," Chaparro said. "I have to spend on gas and money."

Chaparro needed Action News to give him directions to the Fresno traffic court, where the foot traffic was heavier than usual.

Rosa Alvarez got her speeding ticket in Coalinga, but had to drive an extra 70 miles to ask a judge for lenience.

Alvarez said, "I had to work yesterday and then I had to be here at 7 a.m. To sign in, so I had to leave yesterday after work and I had to actually pay for a hotel and try to get my fine reduced."

Chaparro and Alvarez are two early victims of court closures in outlying cities, a new reality in Fresno County.

Presiding judge Gary Hoff announced the closures after the state reduced his budget by more than $26 million. But since announcing the move, he's heard steady criticism.

Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian said, "I don't think the savings justifies cutting off access to justice to almost a half million people in Fresno county."

Poochigian says the judges should've looked for a different solution instead of acting on their own. But Judge Hoff says he thought through every possible way to save.

"I can't disagree with them when they complain this is hurting their constituents," Judge Hoff said. "I know it does. We knew it would when we made the decision. It wasn't an easy decision, but it was one we were compelled to make."

Closing the outlying courts saved about $500,000, not enough to make up for the budget cuts, so court employees could also be affected, layoffs could be coming.

The closures will also cost small town police departments a lot of money. For example, Coalinga's chief tells me his department will have to find an extra twenty to 25-thousand dollars for transportation to and from Fresno.

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