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Barstow courthouse to close in May
Local litigants could face delays, longer trips
Long lines and packed courtrooms are common sights at the Victorville courthouse, while defendants and victims often have to wait months or years to get their cases resolved.
But it could get worse.
The Barstow courthouse will close in May as part of ongoing cost reduction measures, the San Bernardino County Superior Court announced Tuesday. Criminal and family law cases in Barstow will be sent to Victorville, while civil and juvenile cases in Victorville and Barstow will be transferred to courthouses down the Cajon Pass.
That could mean delays at the already jammed Victorville courthouse and longer trips for local civil litigants plus juveniles and their parents.
The county’s Superior Court, operated by the state, faced $22 million in state funding cuts this year. That’s about 20 percent of the 2011-12 budget.
“We are cognizant of the impact that these actions will have upon the bar and citizens of this county who have business in the court, especially for people who live some distance from the remaining courthouses,” San Bernardino County Presiding Judge Marsha Slough said in a statement. “The simple fact is that we can no longer afford to support as many court locations or support as many services as in the past.”
The following plan will become effective May 6:
• All four courtrooms in Barstow will close, resulting in the loss of 22 positions.
• The Needles and Big Bear courthouses, operating three days per month, will close.
• The court will cut an additional seven positions countywide.
Night court services will be eliminated countywide prior to May 6.
The first phase of cuts was announced in July, which included the closure of the Chino courthouse, reductions of court clerk’s office hours and reductions of administrative staff.
Despite these measures, the San Bernardino County Superior Court is projected to lose more than $13 million in 2013, according to court officials.
Acting Chief Deputy Public Defender Mark Shoup said it’s too soon to tell how the changes will affect criminal courts in Victorville, where courtrooms and judges need to be reconfigured.
Victorville family law attorney Greg Zumbrunn also said it’s too soon to tell the impact on family courts. But the process could slow down because Barstow has more self-represented litigants than in the Victor Valley, he said.
Each family court judge in Victorville has 30 to 60 cases per day. Litigants in child custody cases usually have to wait three months or more to get a hearing, Zumbrunn said.
“No question we’ll be impacted, but to what extent, I don’t know,” Zumbrunn said.
Because Victorville will no longer have civil courts, litigants from the High Desert will have to drive to either San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga to get their cases heard.
Brian Morgan, who’s been practicing civil law in the Victor Valley for 35 years, said local litigants will have to pay more for gas, witnesses and attorneys than people in other parts of the county. Taxpayers bear more burden when local cities and school districts get involved in lawsuits, he said.
“Why aren’t the citizens of the desert entitled to drive to a local courthouse in the same manner that the residents of San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga and other cities are?” Morgan said. “We bear the entire burden of balancing the budget. Citizens of our community should be outraged. People already can’t afford the cost of access to justice.”
Small claim cases will still be heard in Victorville, San Bernardino County Court Executive Officer Stephen Nash said.
San Bernardino County has some of the most under-resourced courts in the state. Each judge on average has the second highest caseload in California behind Imperial County, according to the 2010 Court Statistics Report.
Tomoya Shimura may be reached at (760) 955-5368 or TShimura@VVDailyPress.com. Follow Tomoya on Facebook at facebook.com/ShimuraTomoya.
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