Great Recession Impacts Court System; Expect Delays

By David Swedelson, Senior Partner at SwedelsonGottlieb; Head of Firm Litigation Team; Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney

As you have likely seen in the news, the “Great Recession” is still impacting us in ways we could not have imagined a year or two ago. Recently we have seen a number of news stories chronicling the plight of the state’s trial courts that are faced with unprecedented budget cuts, resulting in staff reductions and layoffs, and as a consequence long lines at the court house, stacks of unprocessed paperwork piling up in court clerks’ offices, and delays in getting hearing and trial dates. Justice will be delayed because there are just not enough staff persons at the courthouses to get the work done as quickly as we would like.

As reported in the Daily Journal, “Saying it had no other alternative for absorbing $350 million in budget cuts to the branch, the Judicial Council voted in July to slash trial court funding 6.8 percent. It remains to be seen how the next fiscal’s budget will shake out, but even courts that fared OK this year are bracing for the worst.”

In 2010, a large number of trial courts have notified the Judicial Council of plans to close courtrooms or clerks’ offices, or to reduce clerks’ office hours. The reduction in funding the court system will no doubt hurt court services.

While Los Angeles County Superior Court was reportedly not as bad off this past year as it could have been, thanks to past layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, we lost nine commissioners and 22 reporters who volunteered to take buyouts and were scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.

The state’s largest trial court, Los Angeles County, had an $85 million deficit this year and projects a $161 million gap for next year. Without additional funding, the court has estimated it will be forced to lay off as many as 1,250 employees by April 2014.

San Francisco County Superior Court did not fare as well. Facing a $13.75 million deficit, the court will close some civil courtrooms and lay off a number of employees.

So what does all of this mean to California Community Associations? The lack of funding will mean that it will take longer to get a default judgment, as this process is handled primarily by Court clerks. Default judgments are an important component to the judicial assessment collection process.

It will also take longer to get hearing dates on dispositive motions. We are now getting some hearings scheduled four or more months out, rather then 30 to 90 days as was the norm in years past. And it is anticipated that we will be seeing a delay in trial dates. Where most cases were set for trial in 12 to 18 months from the date the lawsuit was filed, we will likely see many cases delayed for trial for 3 or more years. And trial dates often motivate settlements.

So, when your attorney tells you that there will be a delay in getting a hearing or trial date, you will now understand why and perhaps better appreciate the reason and not blame legal counsel.

Questions or comments? Contact David Swedelson at

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