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Published on June 27th, 2013 | by RLn Staff

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Theft of the Courthouse

Where there’s no justice, democracy fails

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

… as through this 

world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
 Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen. –Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd by Woody Guthrie

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The U.S. Supreme Court continues to send down split decisions on our civil rights. On the one hand, it overturned a portion of the 1960s Voting Rights Act, while on the other, they struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, commonly referred to as DOMA (For details, read Senior Editor Paul Rosenberg’s Fear of a Black (& Brown & Yellow) Electorate).

Yet, closer to home, the Los Angeles Superior Court, by administrative action not challenged by any constituency or attorney bringing a civil rights lawsuit, has closed access to thousands–if not millions of citizens– to their local courthouses. The San Pedro Courthouse stands as a prime example of this miscarriage of justice.

The last official act presided over by Judge Peter Mirich at this court was on June 12 to marry a couple. Then the doors were closed and Mirich transferred to the Long Beach court. He once served as the sole judge on Catalina Island at the Avalon Courthouse, as well as, one of the longest serving judges in San Pedro. Both are now closed for business.

But just what business did these courts conduct? In April of this year, this newspaper filed a public records request with the Los Angeles Superior Court and found that the total monies collected from fees and fines at both the Avalon and San Pedro courts amounted to over $4.5 million per year. In fact, in fiscal year 2010-11 the total collected was a whopping $4,885,772. It would seem that of this gross amount, someone might figure out how to keep the courthouse doors open. But no, this is not the reality.

The reason why the court can’t afford to keep doing business is that out of all these revenues collected, the State of California takes 54 percent, the county takes 37 percent and the cities receive 6 percent. And the court? In 2010-11, the court received a paltry one percent,or $48,857.52. This probably wouldn’t even pay the salary of one bailiff.

Now, I’d say that we have some great legal minds in this state–probably some of the best. But arguably we have some of the worst lawyers, if you ask yourself how such great legal minds failed to do the simple math and allow the state and county governments to take 87 percent of the revenues and not give them back enough to keep the halls of justice open to the public? Even a simple merchant on Sixth Street wouldn’t do business like that! I’m confident that this court and most others could survive if they were allocated even 50 percent of the fees they collect.

My conservative readers frequently use the refrain that, “government should be run like a business.” On general principles, I often object to this line because government’s role is not to make a profit but to provide a benefit. However, both liberals and conservatives should be outraged at these court closures, as it is both bad governance and bad business. What we have here essentially, is the theft of more than $4.5 million annually from our local courthouse revenues with no justification other than the great sucking noise of the state budget deficit and the lack of accountability of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

It is well past time that Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature call for an audit of the California Superior Courts and the AOC, as well as the curious deal to spend $50 million a year on the Crystal Palace of Injustice named after former Gov. George Dukemajian in Long Beach. And call for the immediate refund of the court system and reopen closed courtrooms across the state– like San Pedro and Avalon. I would also ask the legislature to come up with a formula whereby the local jurisdiction retains sufficient amount of the revenues that it generates to maintain the public’s rights to local justice.

If such a “theft” of public monies was done at gunpoint, there would be some serious jail time attached to this crime. But seeing as how it was executed with the stroke of a pen and a vote of the legislature, this theft only receives a shrug of the shoulders. I am personally and profoundly amazed by the indifference shown by the business community, most of the Council District 15 neighborhood councils and the legal profession who have all acquiesced to this abridgment of the public’s right to fair and equal access to the law. Not to mention the loss of 50 well paid jobs and requisite traffic to the court that generates business in the area.
This, just as the boosters of downtown San Pedro proclaim the renaissance of the district! Where is our city attorney on this matter? Where’s the objections of the local Democratic Clubs? Where’s the PBID’s or the San Pedro Chamber of commerce’s letters of objection? And where is your outrage?

There may not be a lot you can do about the hypocrisy of the Supreme Court just now, but this is your courthouse. Let Sacramento know what it means to you! Call or write them today, or just forward them this editorial, but don’t be complacent.

Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841 
Fax: (916) 558-3160 or by email http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php

State Senator Ted Lieu–
State Capital, Room 4061,
Sacramento, CA 95814
or by email Senator.lieu@senate.ca.gov

 

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