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Upcoming closure of Lodi courthouse raises questions


Although San Joaquin County Superior Court officials decided to consolidate services to the main downtown Stockton courthouse, questions remain about a lease the court has with the city of Lodi for use of the Elm Street court building.

The lease became an issue when David Warner, presiding judge of San Joaquin County Superior Court, decided to close the Lodi branch court.

Beginning March 4, those who are arrested in the Lodi area will have to go to the main courthouse in downtown Stockton. So will attorneys, prosecutors, police officers, records employees, and friends and relatives of people with court dates.

Warner, who announced the closure on Jan. 3, said he decided to close the Lodi branch to trim the court system's budget. The greatest cost savings will come from terminating all court services at the Lodi complex on West Elm Street, he said.

But how can Superior Court save money by closing the court when it has a lease with the city of Lodi that doesn't expire until 2022?

Warner, who lives in Lodi, has a ready answer: The Superior Court isn't paying rent to the city. The Administrative Office of the Court, based in San Francisco, oversees the construction and rental of court buildings throughout the state, and is footing the bill, Warner said.

"They can negotiate out of lease," Warner said of the state administrative office. "I hope they don't. We'd like the city to keep that facility. I hope it will remain leased to the court."

The lease, signed in 2006, called for the state judicial agency to pay almost $200,000 plus another 77 cents per square foot for operational services for the first year. Then it went up 2.5 percent for the second through fifth years of the agreement. Future rental fees would be based on the Consumer Price Index.

Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the state judicial agency, said discussions with San Joaquin County Superior Court officials are just beginning. They will discuss current and future needs for court space.

Administrative Office of the Courts officials have yet to discuss its lease with the city.

Lodi City Manager Rad Bartlam and City Attorney Steve Schwabauer were not available for comment Monday.

Warner said he didn't have a dollar figure on how much the Superior Court would save by closing the Lodi branch, since some services will be transferred to the seven-story courthouse in Stockton at 222 E. Weber Ave. There won't be any cost savings by reducing personnel, either. The eight court employees in Lodi, not counting the judge, will be transferred to the downtown Stockton courthouse.

Until March, the Lodi court will continue to handle landlord-tenant issues, traffic cases, passport services and arraignments for criminal cases. Criminal trials are already held in Stockton.

"There are other things that we're doing to save money," Warner said. "It's part of our budget puzzle I'm not free to discuss right now."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.