To reopen courthouses and restore judicial services, county supervisors seek more public funding | New

The COVID-19 pandemic has further reduced resources. The court’s attempts to make its services accessible have had mixed results. Those who tried to eavesdrop on court proceedings through one of the public access teleconference lines during the pandemic were often faced with metallic sound and distant voices, making it nearly impossible to follow what was happening. past.

The Superior Court of the Palo Alto Courthouse has been closed since March 2020. Photo from Embarcadero Media by Sammy Dallal.

Simitian, who was joined in his referral of the case to the board by board chairman Mike Wasserman, said he had three sets of concerns related to the current shutdowns and downsized services: their impact on the court’s work ; the practical challenge of navigating the system for the county’s 2 million residents; and the continued loss of public confidence in democratic institutions. The erosion of trust includes the court when it is seen as remote, insensitive and inaccessible, he said.

“This can only lead to the feeling of alienation and the loss of confidence that people have in their democratic institutions.… This is, for me, something that we should all be concerned about,” he said. .

The Superior Court is run by the state, not the county. Judge Beth McGowen, Associate Presiding Judge of the Santa Clara County Court, noted at the board meeting that budget cuts to the justice system have cut staff by more than 20%; there are now 100 fewer employees.

As a result, the court has a large backlog of criminal and civil cases and has had to move cases normally heard in Palo Alto and Morgan Hill to San José. (The Morgan Hill courthouse reopened in August for trials.)

The court focused on what it calls “consolidation” to keep all services functioning. He kept the Family Court Self Help Center open and kept the clerk’s office in San Jose open for public access to records. The court is also preparing to reopen or launch other services, such as offering same-day mediation now that the moratorium on housing evictions has ended, and to resume operations of the traffic division, he said. she declared.

But the Palo Alto courthouse is expected to remain closed until at least spring 2022, and the courts are also not “expected to return to normal” for some time, McGowen said.

What it looks like could be different from before, as the courts are leaving some of the online services that appear to have worked during the pandemic in place.

Rebecca Fleming, CEO of the court, said the reduction in state budget allocations was not new, but the court has suffered significant budget cuts from the state since at least 2009.

Simitian noted that the North County had a Sunnyvale courthouse, which closed, and the court moved small claims and traffic courts from Palo Alto to Santa Clara and San Jose.

The continued closure of the courthouse places a particular burden on residents who need it most but may not have easy access to transportation to San José due to disability or financial hardship, he noted. .

Mark M. Gagnon