SF Superior Court's civil division at risk of closing

January 27, 2011 7:28:17 PM PST
San Francisco Superior Court may have to shut down the entire civil division, an unprecedented move, if the Legislature approves huge cuts to the courts' budget for next year.

Lawyer Shauna Matlin spends a lot of time at the McAlister Street courthouse, which handles civil cases. The state deficit forced court furloughs which meant 25 percent fewer clerks to handle the court's work load, as well as closing the filing office every Friday at noon.

"They're backlogged about two to three months as well. The stacks in the back are absolutely like towering," Matlin said.

There is not enough staff or resources to take care of the backlogged files and now San Francisco Superior Court courts are faced with budget cuts that would create a deficit of $22 million.

"We will have no choice but to downsize what we are to half what we are now," San Francisco Superior Court executive officer Mike Yuen said.

That means laying off about 250 employees and the result is draconian.

"We will have to shut down the civil division," Yuen said. "I do not recall of any court that has had to suspend their entire civil calendar because of lack of funding."

He says the Legislative Analyst's Office mistakenly concluded that San Francisco's courts are overstaffed, and added that they made that conclusion based on a study conducted 11 years ago.

The office responded in a statement to ABC7News, "Reductions to the trial courts are likely to be inevitable. They [SF courts] are in a better position to adjust to lower funding levels than the other courts identified as under resourced."

But Yuen says they failed to consider San Francisco's heavy load of complex court cases.

"We have two complex litigation departments and we're the only court in California that has two," he said. "We handle two-thirds of all the asbestos cases in the state of California. These cases take a huge amount of time from staffing to processing the 20 bankers' boxes per case that come in."

Officials of the judiciary branch and the Legislative Analyst's Office set up a meeting late Thursday afternoon to discuss, among other things, those budget cuts to San Francisco's courts.