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All LA County Informal Juvenile and Traffic Courts to close June 15

Los Angeles Superior Court
Los Angeles Superior Court
Jordon Cooper/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

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All 13 Informal Juvenile and Traffic Courts are scheduled to close June 15 and those cases instead routed through adult traffic courts or to the Probation Department as part of an effort to contend with deep state funding cuts and reduce the Los Angeles County Superior Courts spending by $30 million.

The change means 65,000 cases that involve typically lower-level offenses that students are cited for in and around school campuses, for example daytime curfew violations or disorderly conduct, will be sent to the Probation Department, which can determine whether to dismiss them, divert them, or send them onward to the District Attorney for filing, said Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash.

Nash said the Probation Department is working on developing a plan as to how it will deal with the influx of juvenile cases.

"Obviously there's concerns that there are all these citations that come in that have to be dealt with in an appropriate way, and so there's obviously some trauma to the system," Nash said.

California courts have been hit with $652 million in cuts to California courts since 2008. The Los Angeles Superior Court is expected to layoff 350 people in its restructuring of more than 50 courtrooms by June 30. As of Tuesday, the court will no longer provide court reporters for civil trials, according to a recent court update.

Observers and local officials have worried about the harm such cuts may have on the ability of the court to spend adequate time on cases and the possibility that it would introduce youth to a more adult, and thereby less rehabilitative, system of doling out justice.

The changes, however, at least in the juvenile realm, are also an opportunity to reevaluate what cases are being brought into system in the first place, Nash said.

"There is a desire and a strong incentive to, once again, keep these [juvenile] cases certainly away from the Delinquency Courts and just out of the court system in general," Nash said. "I think if we're diligent about that, I think we can accomplish that to a large extent."

Nash has worked to bring in a number of reforms to the juvenile court including issuing a directive for the courts to dismiss fines for truancy in certain circumstances as part of a countywide effort to focus on less punitive responses to student attendance problems

He is a proponent of diversion programs and said Probation is considering such programs in its planning for the restructuring. "We hope that schools will get the message that we've been trying to deliver for a while," Nash said. "There is too much they're sending to the courts that don't really belong in the courts."

Nash quoted the phrase of a judge in Georgia who has spoken about reforming the juvenile justice system: "Send the cases of the kids who scare you, not the kids who annoy you."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).