San Mateo Co. court may face layoffs

August 25, 2009 5:50:47 PM PDT
In San Mateo County, superior court executives are investigating an accounting error that may end up forcing job cuts. The county thought it had money to cover a state budget cut, but workers are finding out the funds are not there.

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The county thought it had money to cover a state budget cut, but the additional funds are not there.

In a perfectly working legal system, courtroom clerks remain in the background. They're not seen and not heard, but that wasn't the case in San Mateo County on Tuesday.

"First, I was stunned, surprised. We were not expecting this at all," said deputy court clerk Grant Nguyen.

It's a $3.9 million shortfall of state money, due to an accounting error by the Superior Court of San Mateo County. Now, the court expects to lay off 60 people, including clerks and managers.

County court officer John Fitton told ABC7 off camera: "It means we did not calculate the money right or analyze the information professionally. We want to know who is responsible."

"We wouldn't let that happen," responded San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon to Freedman's question about what would happen if his department was over budget.

County clerks are the people who keep a courthouse running. They print the notices, cash the fines, keep people moving through the system and they document everything.

Unless you're a lawyer, you may not appreciate the amount of paperwork generated by a simple court case. The clerk's abbreviated notes from one felony trial stretch 35 feet. The real paperwork fills crates and would extend for miles.

For people using the court system, ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson expects more frustration.

"It means everything is going to move more slowly. The court cases have to be done and the work load is still the same," said Johnson.

The court and state in the meantime have opened an external investigation. They expect those results in a week and a half and layoffs could begin September 1st.

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