Clovis News

Fresno Co. supervisors protest courthouse closures

Fresno County supervisors are waging a last-ditch effort to save seven satellite courthouses from closure, agreeing Tuesday to send a letter of protest to the Superior Court.

The Board of Supervisors is concerned that people living in faraway foothill and Valley towns will lose out on local court services -- from paying traffic tickets to handling probate matters -- and be forced to travel long distances to a Fresno courtroom.

At Tuesday's meeting, supervisors were clearly insulted that court officials hadn't consulted them about the closures.

"I'm not sure all the options were considered," Supervisor Debbie Poochigian said. "It's pretty unfortunate that we weren't given the opportunity to be part of the discussion."

Last month, Fresno County Superior Court officials announced that the state-funded court system had no choice but to shutter courthouses in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget cuts.

The court's executive staff decided that courts in Coalinga, Firebaugh, Reedley, Sanger and Selma would close on July 30 and courts in Clovis and Kingsburg would close Aug. 6.

Court employees also are slated for a 10% pay cut and others for an early retirement as Brown's spending plan calls on local court systems to surrender reserve funds to the state, leaving Fresno County awash in red ink.

County supervisors insisted Tuesday that officials did not need to close all but Fresno courtrooms. Leaving open a few of the branch offices, if only for limited hours, could happen even with a reduced budget, they said.

"I find this really disturbing," Supervisor Judy Case said. "For a county of 6,000 square miles, we really are doing a disservice to those who don't live in the urban hub."

Board members and a handful of residents and community leaders from outlying areas added that the county's poor, who don't have cars or can't leave work or children behind, would suffer the most.

"I lived in Coalinga for a number of years," said Kingsburg Mayor Bruce Blayney, addressing the board on Tuesday. "Traveling to Fresno was one of those things where you'd have to say I'm going to shoot the rest of the day."

Presiding Judge Gary Hoff could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. But in a prior letter to supervisors, he defended the reductions announced last month as the best course of action given the circumstances.

"Everyone at the Fresno Superior Court understands and regrets that closing the branch courts will be inconvenient for residents who live outside of the Fresno metropolitan area," he wrote. "The centralization of court services in the city of Fresno, however, will provide the opportunity to improve operational efficiency for core court services."

Supervisors have not drafted their letter to the courts yet but directed their staff to do so. The letter will ask court officials to reconsider the closures and provide at least some accommodation for rural residents.