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Courts close for Thanksgiving week

By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
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When Noe Nolasco, of Rocklin, arrived at the Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville Monday morning, he was unaware that he would be welcomed by locked doors. The Superior Court of Placer County began its first set of 12 limited service days this week, with only Department 13 at the Placer County Jail remaining open. Only that court will be handling criminal arraignments, time-sensitive juvenile proceedings and last-day criminal matters Monday through Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are court holidays and all Placer County courtrooms will be closed. The limited service days are a direct result of continued cuts in state funding, according to Jake Chatters, court executive officer for the Superior Court of Placer County. Meanwhile, Nolasco said he was surprised and mildly inconvenienced by the closure Monday morning. “I was just trying to get a citation taken care of before work,” he said. Bruce Johnson drove from Colfax Monday morning to take care of some family law items and said he, too, was unaware that the courts would be closed. Johnson said he was at the justice center last week and saw the posting about the Thanksgiving holiday closure, but did not see the posting about the limited service days. “It’s not that big of a deal,” he said. “I guess I’ll just have to come back next Monday.” According to Chatters, the state of California has reduced the trial courts’ budget by more than $600 million over the last three years. With the limited service days, of which there are four in December and one each in January, March, April, May and June, the court will save anywhere between $500,000 and $550,000 on operating costs, Chatters said. The Superior Court of Placer County employs about 135 non-judicial staff members, all of whom will receive a pay cut as a result of the closures. Superior court judges, whose annual salary is $179,000, will not be affected by the closures since they are constitutional elected officers and paid for by the state. Department 13 will remain staffed by 12 employees during the limited service days, Chatters said. Chatters said the court has reduced staffing by 30 percent over the past year, courtrooms have been closed and employees are now having to pay more into their retirement plans as a result of the cuts. “There have been impacts across the board,” Chatters said. “And those are going to continue with the cuts we’ve already had.” Chatters said the Placer court system is funded partially through court fees and fines but receives the majority of its funding from the state’s general fund, which has seen substantial cuts. “So those cuts get passed down obviously to those of us at the local trial courts,” Chatters said. “We don’t solicit funds for obvious reasons because that would imply that justice can be bought, and it can’t.” During the limited service days, a drop box will be located outside the Santucci center, the historic courthouse in Auburn as well as the Tahoe City courthouse. The drop box is for non-urgent filing, such as traffic ticket payments, and each deposit made by 4 p.m. will receive that day’s filing date. Chatters said those with urgent filings, such as restraining orders and stays of executions, can file at Department 13 at the Placer County Jail. Chatters said the average wait time at the Santucci Justice Center ranges from about 20 minutes to one hour, depending on what kind of business is being conducted there. He said those there on family law matters tend to wait a little longer and during September, one customer waited for 2 hours and 28 minutes. “We’re asking the public for their understanding in that we can’t provide them with the service that we’d like to provide,” he said. Christy Kong, of Rocklin, said the court closures do not bother her. “I don’t care one way or another,” Kong said. “They deserve to have a Thanksgiving, too.” Toby Lewis can be reached at tobyl@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT. ---------- The Superior Court of Placer County limited service days are: Nov. 21-23, Dec. 27-30, Jan. 27, March 23,April 27, May 25, June 15