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SF courts to cut hours due to budget, staffing reductions

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(Examiner file photo)

San Francisco’s court clerks’ offices will be closing early starting next month due to ongoing budget and staffing cuts, limiting the hours in which attorneys and members of the public can file paperwork and access court records.

The offices will close daily at 2 p.m. starting Oct. 22 to allow clerks time to handle filing and other paperwork, although drop boxes will be available until 4 p.m. for those who need to file, San Francisco Superior Court officials announced Monday. The change affects all branches of the courts including criminal, civil, family, traffic and juvenile.

The reduced hours are only the latest attempt by the court to deal with cumulative budget issues dating back to state cuts and layoffs in 2011 that have seen the budget drop from $90 million in 2008 to $72.6 million in the current fiscal year. In response the court has implemented a hiring freeze and cut staffing levels 30 percent over the past 10 years, from 591 employees in 2008 to 414 as of this past June.

Last year, the court furloughed staff one day a month and reduced hours every Friday, but court spokeswoman Ann Donlan said no furloughs have been negotiated for the current year.

The current state budget includes an increase in funding, but it is not enough to make up for the cumulative effect of budget cuts, officials said.

Michael Yuen, chief executive officer of the San Francisco Superior Court, said the reduced hours were “something we probably should have done sooner” and noted that most other Bay Area courts have already made similar cuts.

“We were holding out because we wanted to do the best job we could to serve the public,” Yuen said. But with increased workloads and the continuing hiring freeze, he said “something needs to give.”

A significant and growing portion of court funding is allocated according to a statewide formula established in 2013 that looks at factors including caseload to estimate what each county court needs.

However that formula does not take into account factors specific to San Francisco such as the court’s handling of complex litigation and a higher trial rate for misdemeanors, and in practice it sets the baseline for funding at far lower levels than in previous years, Yuen said.

The court is required to give public notice in advance of changes to hours, and will be taking public comment until Oct. 19 at sfcourtbudget@sftc.org. More information is available on the San Francisco Superior Court website.

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