Protests against shutdown of some L.A. County Courthouses

By Nicolette Kelegian

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

The Los Angeles Superior Court system will begin consolidating courthouses in order to close the budget deficit. Those facing small claim cases, particularly landlord-tenant disputes, will have to travel farther to attend their court date. Twenty-six courthouses will be consolidated into five starting March 18. Courts will be shut down in Huntington Park, Whittier, Pomona North, Malibu, West Los Angeles, San Pedro, Beacon St., and the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Street.

Union activists and community advocates held protests on Thursday outside the Los Angeles County Courthouse in Downtown LA.

imageLegal aid groups are suing the Los Angeles County Courts saying the cuts will directly affect lower-income families and the disabled. Leonard Vilchis, from the organization Union de Vecinos, says these court closures will force people out of their homes. “This will be a tragedy for very low-income and for senior citizens who are trying to protect their housing because by not making it to the court they will lose their housing and end up homeless,” Vilchis said.

Barbara Shultz, an attorney with one of the law firms that filed the lawsuit, explains that these court closures create transportation barriers for low-income and disabled people.

“Our low-income tenants who live in Whiittier or Pico Rivera will have to be on a bus by 6 a.m. in order to reach the Long Beach Courthouse by 8:30 court call,” Shultz said.

Shultz fears that these closures will put power in the hands of landlords, who can take advantage of their tenants.

“Particularly those with disreputable landlords who will file dubious evictions knowing that the likelihood of tenants being able to make it to a courthouse more than 30 miles away on multiple buses is iffy at best,” Shultz said.

If a tenant doesn’t show up to the hearing, a default judgment results. In other words, the judgment is in favor of the plaintiff, or landlord because the defendant failed to appear at the meeting.

Not only will it be challenging for low-income and disabled tenants to make it their court date, but these court closures will affect kids in the juvenile system.

Leon Brown is the outreach supervisor for the organization, People for Community Involvement. “If there not in court on time and what not they issue bench warrants and that’s another cycle of the juveniles being in the system and it will carry on into their adulthood,” Brown said.

Court documents say there will be no more financial reserves at the end of this fiscal year and that the only way to balance its budget is to operate fewer courthouses and change the caseloads of other courtrooms in order to cut back on staff.

James Upshaw, a Los Angeles resident and member of the organization “Good Jobs L.A.,” fears that these court foreclosures will take away the community’s voice.

“The residents of Los Angeles will not have a voice. We can cry loud in our community. We can cry loud in our town hall meetings. I feel we’re not clearly heard until we’re heard by the courts.”

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