County officers blame state for funding crisis

The Superior Court of San Mateo County, already racked by budget cuts, is planning to slash even more services to make ends meet.

The announcement came on Monday and included plans to close up to six courtrooms by July 1, 2013, due to state budget cuts. The proposal includes suspending court services in the South San Francisco and San Mateo branches.

“Unless the state acts to restore funds to the court, drastic reductions in court services are unavoidable,” said Presiding Judge Beth Labson Freeman in a prepared release.

Trial courts throughout California cut more than $1 billion from their budgets over the past five years, according to the county release. The San Mateo Superior Court has seen a dramatic reduction in its budget due to cuts from Sacramento and unfunded mandates.

“Trial courts should not be dismantled, justice should not be rationed and communities should not be denied a rational, accessible and credible means to resolve disputes,” said Judge Freeman in the same release.

Judge Robert Foiles, who becomes presiding judge in the county next year, said that court officers are “purposefully sharing this information well in advance so that the court can work with its justice partners and community leaders to restore funding and minimize these actions, if at all possible.”

To date, the San Mateo Superior Court has reduced its workforce by more than 30 percent, reduced clerk’s office and phone hours, consolidated traffic and small claims clerk’s offices and traffic arraignments to Redwood City.

If current cuts are not eliminated, the judges say they will be forced to further reduce the court’s workforce, close up to six courtrooms and suspend court services in the South San Francisco and San Mateo branches, consolidating the majority of operations in Redwood City. Further reduction in public service hours may occur earlier.

— from staff reports

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