Cuts last year forced the layoff of 120 court system employees. Cobb expects to cut another 150 employees on May 1 and an additional 300 on Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year brings further budget cuts.
You can’t just pull 570 employees out of the court system and expect it to operate as efficiently as before. The work still has to be done, but it falls to the remaining employees to do it. And they can’t if they’re in court all week, so Cobb signed an order on Tuesday aimed at freeing up some time for court employees to do paperwork.
Her order authorizes local presiding judges to close court on Fridays and reduce the number of weeks in which jury trials are held — by half for civil trials and by one-fourth for criminal trials.
Cobb anticipates that defendants will endure more jail time before their cases go to trial, civil suits and divorce cases will languish on the dockets, and the entire system will be backed up even farther than it is now.
The order also directs the presiding judge in each circuit to plan to close judicial offices and courtrooms in all but one courthouse in each county on Oct. 1. Counties that hold court in more than one city, as Talladega and St. Clair counties do, will have to consolidate their trials in one location, which is likely to crowd court schedules as well as create additional difficulty for citizens who must travel farther to appear in court.
All in all, the changes will be painful and inconvenient for everyone concerned — judges, lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants. They will bring home to every county and courtroom the true cost of proration.