Courts forced to reduce hours |

Courts forced to reduce hours

by Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

Bracing for state budget cuts, El Dorado County Superior Court branches will close their public service counters and not answer telephones on Wednesdays after noon and from noon to 1 p.m. daily the rest of the week.

The reason, explained Court Executive Officer Steve Cascioppo, is because the court is not filling at least 10 clerical vacancies in order to deal with a dwindling budget.

“Essentially our staff now is taking on more duties because there are fewer people to do the same or more amount of work,” Cascioppo said. The changes are effective March 24.

The reduction in public office hours will allow staff to catch up on work without being disrupted by attorneys, residents or other government agencies.

At the South Lake Tahoe Superior Court branch, there are two vacancies that haven’t been filled, including court operations supervisor. Judy Comte is working part time, having retired from her full-time duties in December.

The state, which is facing a $36 billion deficit, has put government agencies on alert they will likely sustain major budget cuts. Superior courts throughout the state have been told they may have to eliminate 5 percent of their staff, which could amount to about 20 positions out of 96 in El Dorado County.

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The South Lake Tahoe branch makes up about a third of the county’s Superior Court staff.

Among those affected is the District Attorney’s Office.

“It will get much better once we are used to the new system,” Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said. “In a way I’m more appreciative of what they are trying to do because there are a lot of DAs in other counties that are far worse.

“Access to justice is already a challenge, but we understand the office is under terrible financial pressure.”

No one was available Friday at the Public Defenders Office to comment on how budget constraints will affect that office.

Not only is the Superior Court bracing for possible funding cuts, but layoffs are a possibility.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” Cascioppo said. “We are hoping that by holding vacancies, we can prevent this from happening.”

While the staffing shortage has forced people to do more work, Cascioppo said the morale has been good.

“We have an excellent staff who are pitching in and helping out in every way they can,” he said. “You can see the pressures of trying to keep the work flow and maintain the same level of service to the public.”

Should anyone need to file documents when the counter is closed, each court location has a drop box that will be available until 5 p.m.

The court staff will file them on the date they are deposited.

“The court is committed to reinstating its standard hours of operation as soon as the budget situation is resolved and staffing returns to normal levels,” Cascioppo said.

Jeff Munson can be reached at