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Los Angeles Daily News

Thursday March 21, 2013

Federal Judge Won't Budge, Throws Out Lawsuit Fighting L.A. Superior Court Consolidation

By Christina Villacorte

Without ruling on the merits of the case, a federal judge late Monday threw out a lawsuit by legal services and community organizations to block the Los Angeles Superior Court from drastically reducing the number of local courtrooms hearing eviction cases.

The plaintiffs, however, intend to continue fighting the so-called court consolidation plan, which took effect Monday and they are deciding between appealing the decision or bringing the case to a state court instead.

In his order, US District Judge Terry Hatter said the federal court "abstains from considering plaintiffs' claims" but did not elaborate.

Neal Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit, explained the federal judge abstained in the belief that a state court should hear the case instead.

"This is not a ruling on the merits of our claim at all," Dudovitz said. "(Hatter) just said we have to go somewhere else with it, and that's what we're going to do. "

"We cannot allow this (consolidation) policy to close the doors of justice in our client's faces," he added.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition For Economic Survival, one of the plaintiffs in the case, vowed, "There will, most certainly, be a next step!"

"The courts cannot be allowed to move forward with this court closure and consolidation policy," he added. "The impact would be devastating to poor people and people living with disabilities.

Because the plaintiffs were not able to secure a temporary restraining order through the federal lawsuit, the Superior Court has begun scaling back its operations to close an $85-million dollar budget deficit by June 30, including reducing the number of courtrooms hearing eviction cases.

Last year alone, the Superior Court heard about 70,000 eviction cases in 26 courtrooms. Once consolidation is in place, only five courtrooms will hear eviction cases, forcing many tenants facing eviction to commute as far as 60 miles in the early morning hours to try to save their homes.

The Superior Court has also begun the first phase of closing eight courthouses and removing most court work from two other locations. Consolidation also means small claims cases will be heard in only six courthouses instead of current 26.

"The first phase of the court's consolidation plan began on March 18," Mary Hearn, spokeswoman for the Superior Court, said. "As of that date, new unlawful detainer cases, as well as new small claims, general civil personal injury, and limited civil cases must be filed at the courthouse locations described in the notices and the plan."

"Pending cases will continue to be heard at the courthouses where they originated until the parties receive notice that their cases have been transferred," she added.

Those who want to file new eviction cases in the San Fernando Valley can no longer do so in either the Van Nuys or Chatsworth courthouses. They have to go to either Santa Monica or Pasadena instead.

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