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.