Beginning March 4, you will have to drive to downtown Stockton to go to court.
Presiding Superior Court Judge David Warner announced Thursday afternoon that money is so tight, he needs 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.
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.
“Believe me, it pains me more than I can say,” said Warner, a Lodi resident and former mayor, citing several disadvantages for Lodi-area residents. They include:
- Defendants will have to be tried in Stockton.
- Family members, friends and other observers will have to travel to Stockton, pay parking charges and navigate the larger courthouse with numerous courtrooms.
- Lodi police officers having to drive to and from Stockton, taking them away from Lodi’s streets.
Lodi had two courtrooms until October 2011, when one of the courtrooms was closed to trim the court’s budget. Now all court services in Lodi will be terminated.
Warner, a Superior Court judge in Lodi for at least 12 years, said he had planned to return to the Lodi court once his two-year term as presiding judge expired later this year. The presiding judge oversees the other San Joaquin County judges and performs administrative duties at the Stockton courthouse. At the end of 2013, someone else will become presiding judge.
“I think Lodi needs to have a court presence, both as a community and financially as a city,” he said.
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 will be no employee layoffs, Warner said. The eight court employees, not counting the judge, will be transferred to the downtown Stockton courthouse. Sheriff’s deputies also staff the Lodi court.
At about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Joseph Malilay and his son Patrick were disappointed to find out the Lodi courthouse was already closed for the day.
Joseph Malilay wanted to renew his passport — a service available at the Lodi branch courthouse — late Thursday afternoon. As a Stockton resident, Malilay prefers to come to the Lodi branch because it is less crowded.
“I hope they keep it open,” Malilay said.
Warner said he hopes the Lodi court will reopen sometime after March 1, but he sees it as a long-term solution due to what he described as the “continuing deterioration of state budget.”
“It’s not a pretty picture,” he said.
Warner said he doesn’t expect the Stockton courthouse to become overcrowded, because the county District Attorney’s Office is filing fewer cases due to having fewer employees.