COAST CITIES — The probate division of the North County Superior Court in Vista is due to close Sept. 2.
The shuttering is just the first part of a wave of courthouse closures that will hit San Diego County in upcoming months, said Michael Roddy, executive officer of the San Diego County Superior Courts.
“It’s the start of a significant restructuring brought on by a budget crisis,” Roddy said. “We have no choice. $33 million was cut from courts at the state level.”
In response to $14 million being slashed from San Diego County courts, by June of next year, the county stands to lose six downtown criminal courtrooms, Ramona’s entire courthouse and a juvenile dependency center in Vista, as well as other courtrooms.
“There will be delays at all levels of the courts,” Roddy said. “It will be tougher to get access to a courtroom.”
Even more courthouse closures are possible in 2014, Roddy said. In addition to closures, all court offices will be closed by noon on Fridays.
The cuts also mean about 250 courthouse employees could be laid off over the next two years.
According to Roddy, of the Vista probate court’s eight full-time staff members, four will be let go, one is retiring and three will be transferred downtown, where all probate cases will be heard beginning next month.
Roddy said the Vista probate court handles roughly one-third of probate case traffic, which includes estate and conservatorship matters, in San Diego County. Closing the court will save about $360,000 a year, he added.
Bill Kamenjarin, president and spokesperson of the North County Bar Association, has sought to keep the Vista probate court, as well as courthouses targeted for closure, open.
He said the entire county will be negatively impacted by the court closures.
“Unfortunately this falls most heavily on senior citizens,” Kamenjarin said.
Several weeks ago, Kamenjarin addressed the Vista probate court closure in a letter to Roddy and Robert Trentacosta, presiding judge of the San Diego County Superior Courts.
“Again, any given Friday reveals the frailest and oldest of our citizens, citizens who are looking to the court to protect them and what are often their meager resources from the ravages of both time and, unfortunately, greed,” wrote Kamenjarin in the letter.
Kamenjarin has said the county could prevent more courthouse closures if it took a harder look at cost-saving measures like increasing telecourt hours and generating revenue by focusing on taking in long-overdue court collections.
“The public’s suggestions haven’t been noted,” Kamenjarin said. “They’ve been left out.”
Citizens can comment on the closures at sdcourt.ca.gov.
Kamenjarin urged those who are concerned with the closures to also speak with their local and state representatives.
Robert Dieringer, associate attorney at the San Diego Elder Law Center in San Diego, said many lawyers who practice in North County will be greatly affected by the Vista probate court closure.
But San Diego probate lawyers will feel the closure, too, he said.
“More caseloads being transferred downtown translates to more delays for us,” Dieringer said.