County Courts to Shutter Completely for Holidays
All Alameda County Courthouses, with the exception of the Wiley W. Manuel (WWM) courthouse in Oakland, will be closed to the public for a holiday break from Friday, Dec. 23, to Jan. 2, 2017.
The closures are part of the Alameda County court system’s Voluntary Time-Off Program, according to an Alameda County Superior Court (ACSC) press release. Staff who participate will take five business days off without pay. The program is aimed at cutting costs without having to lay staff off.
The decision, however, means there will be no hearings on non-emergency matters ranging from divorce and child custody cases, personal injury cases, small claims to business disputes, probates and others. Fax-filing services will continue to operate as planned during this period.
The WWM courthouse will employ a limited number of staff to hear time-sensitive criminal matters, review restraining order applications and other requests for emergency relief. The WWM courthouse will shorten its hours of service to 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23, and from Tuesday, Dec. 27, to Friday, Dec. 30. The WWM courthouse will be the only place for drop-box services, which will be from 2:30 to 4 p.m. during this time.
The George E. McDonald Hall of Justice in Alameda, the Berkeley Courthouse, the Fremont Hall of Justice, the Hayward Hall of Justice, the Rene C. Davidson courthouse in Oakland and the Gale-Schenone Hall of Justice in Pleasanton will all be closed during the 11-day break. The Court’s Self-Help Center and Family Law Facilitator’s Office will be closed during this period. The Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro will shut down many of its services to the public, but certain cases will be heard and parties to those cases will be able to access the courthouse.
ACSC entered fiscal year 2016-2017 with a budget deficit of more than $5 million, according to the press release. The court system cites a lack of state funding and its designated “donor” court status as a reason for its budget deficit. The “donor” court status means that large portions of the Court’s ongoing funding and any “new” monies restored to the courts through the budget process are actually diverted to other courts that have been deemed to be more under-resourced.
ACSC said the courthouse closures will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs. Other steps aimed at reducing costs include eliminating a number of vacant staff positions; instituting a “hard freeze” of no less than 12 months on filling other positions; instituting a “soft freeze” on all other positions, meaning that any vacant position will be kept vacant for no less than 90 days after it opens up; reducing the use of outside contractors and consultants; eliminating the use of overtime or comp time for staff except in certain very narrow instances; utilizing the entire 1 percent fund balance reserve that the Court is permitted to carry from year to year.
This effort eliminates any funding “safety net” for this year; reduces expenditures on office supplies; reduces printing costs by switching to a postcard format for jury summonses; and defers plans to move a juvenile courtroom from Oakland to San Leandro.
ACSC regrets the impact these closures will have on the public, but says this plan represents the Court’s “most viable option for addressing the dire economic circumstances imposed upon it.”
The Court has established a dedicated web page for up-to-date information about the specifics of the upcoming closures, including which judicial officers will be presiding in which departments during that time. The web page is located at www.alameda.courts.ca.gov/Pages.aspx/Notice-of-Temporary-Closure.