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County budget cuts hit courthouses known for celebrity cases

November 15, 2012 |  8:52 am
PHOTOS: L.A. County courthouses face closure -- some of their famous cases

Two courthouses known for their celebrity cases are among those slated for massive cuts announced this week.

Courtrooms will be shuttered in such high-profile courthouses as Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, and Malibu, as well as those in other cities including Avalon, Huntington Park, Whittier, Pomona and San Pedro. The courthouses will continue to handle some administrative matters, such as ticket payments, but will no longer hear cases.

The Beverly Hills and Malibu courthouses have been the sites of numerous celebrity proceedings over the years, including cases involving Zsa Zsa Gabor, Robert Downey Jr., Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan.

PHOTOS: L.A. County courthouses face closure -- some of their famous cases

The Beverly Hills courthouse is perhaps the best known for its celebrity defendants.

The criminal and civil cases from those locations will be reassigned to courts that could be anywhere from seven to 35 miles away, leading to longer commutes for jurors, witnesses, litigants and law enforcement officials.

The closures are expected to occur over the next eight months.

"It's devastating to the court system, and it's going to be a sea change in how we do our business," said Lee Smalley Edmon, presiding judge of the L.A. County Superior Court. "Unfortunately, there are going to be longer lines in each of our courthouses and great delays throughout the system."

Officials said civil courts will be particularly hard hit, with many civil courtrooms operating with only one court clerk and without any full-time court reporters.

It's unclear how many court workers will lose their jobs. The Los Angeles County courts have already laid off hundreds of employees and left more positions unfilled, resulting in longer lines to file paperwork and cases that plod along at a snail's pace.

In the last fiscal year, the court system shaved $70 million from its budget, in part by freezing wages and forcing staff members to take furlough days.

Plans also call for the creation of "trial hubs," which would handle certain classifications of cases, including small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, collections and personal injury. Those hubs would be spread at remaining courthouses throughout the county.

Antonio Bestard, a veteran civil trial attorney from Pomona, said that even before Wednesday's announcement, the effects of previous cuts were hard to miss.

"It's going to be an unfathomable burden that's going to deny the general public basic judicial remedies, from the smallest traffic infractions to the most complicated civil lawsuits," Bestard said.

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--Andrew Blankstein and Matt Stevens

Photos, from top: A man throws glitter on Lindsay Lohan as she arrives at the Beverly Hills courthouse in 2010. The Beverly Hills courthouse is among those targeted for closure. (Credit: Los Angeles Times / July 20, 2010); county marshals escort Zsa Zsa Gabor into Municipal Court in Beverly Hills in September 1989.

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