San Luis Obispo County Superior Court officials are considering a temporary closure of the Grover Beach branch starting in January because of an anticipated budget crunch.
Presiding Judge Charles Crandall sent a letter on Sept. 1 to court staff and judicial administrators seeking their comment on the possible closure and how it could affect operations.
The Grover Beach branch at 214 South 16th St. administers certain legal cases in the South County.
Those include misdemeanors, some civil cases, small claims and juvenile traffic cases. The court has also been used on occasion for high-profile cases, such as hearings in the fraud case brought against former hard-money lenders Karen Guth and Joshua Yaguda.
Court Executive Officer Susan Matherly said that a temporary closure would be a last resort to prevent layoffs, and court officials hope to avoid the shutdown.
Lawmakers in Sacramento are still overdue in passing a state budget for this fiscal year — which began on July 1 — as politicians continue to negotiate. But Matherly said predictions of state judicial officials are that there will be more budget tightening in the court system.
Matherly said that the Grover Beach courthouse is a busy location and consolidating services with the San Luis Obispo court would be complicated.
“We don’t have enough courtrooms in San Luis Obispo to merge all of the operations,” Matherly said. “It would take some creative thinking, and this is a last resort.”
In his letter, Crandall sought arguments for and against the closure.
Crandall wrote that a court committee would assess the situation and make a recommendation by late October.
That committee consists of Judges Barry LaBarbera, Teresa Estrada-Mullaney, Jac Crawford — who’s currently assigned to the Grover Beach branch — Matherly and Karen L. Liebscher, the court’s director of criminal operations.
The court, which had a 2009-10 budget of $21 million, has had a hiring freeze since June 1, 2009, and is bracing for another tight budget year.
It dipped into its reserves this year to pay for staff to perform administrative work on planned once-a-month furlough days, which aren’t scheduled by the state this year.
Court staff had the option to take an unpaid day off on the furlough days last year.