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Closure of Lodi courtroom could mean police overtime

Lodians would have to head to Stockton for tickets, small claims

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Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:24 am, Thu Jul 28, 2011.

If you receive a traffic ticket in Lodi or are involved in a small claims case, you will probably have to head to Stockton after Oct. 3. Leaders of the San Joaquin County Superior Court plan to shut one of the two Lodi courtrooms because of state budget cuts.

Lodi city staff also estimates the change could create 44,000 police hours of overtime per year, as police officers go to Stockton for court hearings instead of remaining in Lodi.

Presiding Judge Robin Appel has pleaded with the state to get more funding to avoid the cuts. She appeared at a budget meeting in San Francisco on Friday and asked for special considerations because the county is the most underfunded of the state's 58 superior courts, Appel said.

"They have never given San Joaquin County the funding it should have based on case type, the population and a number of variables. Now that things are becoming so bad, the cuts are becoming more and more acute," Appel said.

The plan is to close the entire Tracy branch in October and the Lodi courtroom at 315 W. Elm St. But the courtroom and clerk's office at 217 W. Elm St. will remain open, according to court spokeswoman Stephanie Bohrer.

Mayor Bob Johnson wrote a letter on behalf of the Lodi City Council asking the county court to reconsider closing down the courtroom.

One of the main concerns is that the closure of the court will result in more overtime in the city attorney's office and the police department because employees will have to travel the 13 miles to Stockton and wait for trials to start.

In the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, police officers responded to 1,100 subpoenas for criminal and traffic cases, Mayor Bob Johnson wrote in a letter.

City staff estimates that moving most of these cases to Stockton will result in 44,000 of overtime hours a year.

"It goes without saying that 44,000 additional police hours would have a catastrophic effect on Lodi's already beleaguered budget," Johnson wrote.

The possible closures are a result of the recently passed state budget, which included $350 million in cuts to trial courts, forcing the county to reduce its $35 million trial court budget by $4.2 million.

The county is currently accepting public comments until Aug. 2 on the proposed closures, but staff will most likely still go through with the closure starting in October, Bohrer said.

"Given the financial situation, I don't think things will be changing. We still want comments from the public because they are important to hear, and if anyone has any realistic suggestions, we'll take those into consideration," she said.

The county also considered postponing all small claims cases until funding is restored. But on Tuesday, the decision was reached that the court will still handle a reduced small claims calendar, Appel said.

In the letter, Johnson urged the court to look for other options as opposed to closing the three courtrooms in the county.

The city has eliminated more than 55 positions through early retirements, layoffs and attrition, and negotiated 11-percent concessions from all of its union and non-union employees, he wrote.

"The Lodi City Council strongly urges the Court to explore further salary and benefit concessions, as well as staffing reductions, before eliminating courtrooms that serve the citizens of San Joaquin County," Johnson wrote.

While Appel could not speak about whether there will be further cuts, she said the courts have reduced staff over the ast three years. According to the state, San Joaquin County should have 450 employees in the courts, but currently only have 307.

"We are understaffed as it is. We haven't done layoffs, that's true, but that's because we don't have the staff that we need. We have not hired for three years, and lost employees to attrition," she said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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  • Account Deleted posted at 5:24 pm on Thu, Jul 28, 2011.

    Jesse Hallum Posts: 57

    I cannot believe it myself: I agree with Darrell. Government Employee Unions are the root of the spending problems. They're expensive, unproductive and arrogant.

    I can assure everyone that when (not if) Califonria financially melts-down, Unions will be the first to get kicked to the curb. We've already seen this in other states. I am diametrically opposed to unionization anyway, so I won't lose any sleep. I would LOVE to see these lazy, overpaid hacks try to function in the private sector, in the real world for a change.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 1:35 pm on Thu, Jul 28, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Jackson Scott posted at 10:24 am on Thu, Jul 28, 2011...Government Employee Unions have destroyed the balance sheet of Cities, Counties, States, and the US Government...

    I cannot believe it...My finger tip are burning as I type. I actually agree with Jackson this time.

  • Jackson Scott posted at 10:24 am on Thu, Jul 28, 2011.

    Jackson Scott Posts: 382

    Jesse wrote: "Unions don't see it that way, which is another problem altogether."

    Government Employee Unions have destroyed the balance sheet of Cities, Counties, States, and the US Government.

    Part of the problem must also lie with those who have approved those fat pay raises & huge pensions. Back in the day those who served on the CC, SJC Board of Sups, etc were successful business people. They had to write checks from their own money, balance the books, etc. The past 20+ years these people are usually "Professional Politicians" who simply seek the next office. They've never really had a job in the "real world," and have no clue what it is like to be held accountable. We've had several of these types on our COL CC in recent years: JS, JB, PP, to name a few.

  • Account Deleted posted at 7:51 pm on Wed, Jul 27, 2011.

    Jesse Hallum Posts: 57

    I'm sick of hearing Government scream like a spoiled infant every time budget cuts happen. Our Government is way too big, expensive, wasteful, and does not serve the public well at all. Unions don't see it that way, which is another problem altogether. It is sad to see how mediocre America has become.

  • Josh Morgan posted at 12:34 pm on Wed, Jul 27, 2011.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Dave Christy said: "NOW the tough part, find leadership within the branches of Government with the guts and the know how to cut through the created red tape and over-regulation to get the job done!"

    You hit the nail on the head. Back in the day, it was very common to see independent business people run and be elected to office. People who had to balance their own checkbook every month and not be able to spend more money than they received. Look at Lodi over the years......the majority of the Council were made up of independent business people who had no real interest in running for higher office. Why would a successful independent business person run for office today? Because it's a bitch! Why would you put your reputation and expose your family to the vultures that do nothing but look to criticize? And if they can't find anything they start making it up. I spent many years in this community as an independent businessman and you couldn't pay me enough to take on a job like that today. The American public is their own worst enemy. We allow big corporations and unions to buy elections. it has to come to a stop.

  • Jackson Scott posted at 11:14 am on Wed, Jul 27, 2011.

    Jackson Scott Posts: 382

    Holy Zinfandel Batman!

    Forty-Four THOUSAND overtime hours? Is that a misprint? Forty-four hundred maybe?

    Figure the average cop earns $75K/yr, thats about $36/hr... at 44K OT hours, which is TIME AND A HALF (1.5!)... that comes to approx $2.3 MILLION!!!!

    According to the City website LPD had 78 sworn officers. That translates into $30K+ per officer! Obviously management is not going to be doing this work so each street officer will easily be getting over $35K in OT, per year!

    This is insane.

    (Insert sarcasm) While we're at it why dont we just get rid of all of the county city police departments, & bulk up the sheriff's department. Think of all of the millions we could save. (I'm joking people)

  • Dave Christy posted at 10:07 am on Wed, Jul 27, 2011.

    Dave Christy Posts: 27

    The problem will never be solved until common sense enters the picture. Not just in SJ County but across the country Muni. Spending has reached the level of unsustainable. Sacrifices have to be made by everybody. The Muni work force continues to shrink because the top of the rung will not give up pay and benefit levels that were brought about by the prosperity of the 60’s thru 90's. The tax base of the 60's thru the 90's is not there any longer the created expense is. The whole Nation needs to make sacrifices, it's going to be painful .As the citizens suffer through this economy , as we take higher deductable health plans, take pay and benefit cuts, we watch our leaders continue with the best of the best in everything. We watch our President fly at will and spend us into an ever increasing hole, as does his wife and staff. We have the ability to cut in every level of Government, our Police, Firefighters, Munis. In general have become accustomed to the best of the best. Cell phones, automobiles, supplies over supplies, the waste has to stop. The corruption has to stop. The needless entitlement and corruption in entitlements has to stop, we all know about it, nothing seems to get done. Do what every household and small business has done, go through all expense items one by one if it's not an absolute need get rid of it. NOW the tough part find leadership within the branches of Government with the guts and the know how to cut through the created red tape and over-regulation to get the job done!



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