State cuts mean all criminal cases, many traffic cases will be heard in Lamont now. Taft court will be open just one day per week

Superior Court officials on Tuesday confirmed what the Taft Midway Driller reported last week:

The Taft court will be open only one day per week, and all felony and misdemeanor cases will be heard in Lamont starting in September.

Kern County Superior Court Administrator Terry McNally issued a statement Tuesday morning outlining the cuts, which will affect Taft more than any other court in the county.

The Lake Isabella court will be closed, but criminal filings had been moved to other courts in the past and it has been open just one day per week.

Taft's court will be open only on Fridays for traffic citations issued by Taft Police, small claims and limited civil actions.

People cited by the California Highway Patrol will have to appear in Lamont.

The severe cuts are the result of cuts in state funding, McNally said.

"The Superior Court, County of Kern, has realized significant, permanent budget reductions of $9.7 million or 27% of base funding since 2008," McNally said in a written statement. "While the court has implemented a number of cost savings measures—reductions in staff, increased pass through of pension and health care benefits to court employees, reduction of controllable expenses in excess of $3 million—the court will have a structural deficit of $3.7 million in the upcoming 2013-2014 budget year.

Not only are the cuts far-reaching, they will be long lasting, McNally said.

"In the past, the court has been able to utilize savings from local cost cutting measures to balance the annual budget deficits to date," McNally said. "However, these savings are required to be depleted by the end of the fiscal year; therefore, permanent service reductions are required to balance the Court's budget."

Taft's court will be reduced to one court day per week starting Sept. 9.

These are the effects of the cuts in Taft:

• All felony filings will be filed and heard at the Arvin/Lamont Branch Arvin/Lamont Regional Court location, 12022 Main Street, Lamont;

• Misdemeanor filings will be heard at the Arvin/Lamont Branch;

• All CHP traffic infractions will be transferred to the Arvin/Lamont Branch;

• Limited civil, small claims and Taft City traffic infractions will be heard at the Taft facility.

• Court users may file documents at the Taft Regional Court facility when it is open, or at any other court location in Kern County during normal business hours.

A drop box will be available at the Taft Regional Court Facility.

Despite McNally's dire warnings, Kern County Superior Court Presiding Judge Colette Humphrey said she is hopeful that at some point, the services being cut can be restored.

"The Kern Superior Court Judges believe court access is a fundamental component of fair and equitable justice and have approved these reductions reluctantly in the face of severe budget cuts over the past five years," said Judge Colette M. Humphrey, Presiding Judge. "It is our hope that if future funding is restored to adequate levels, we can reinstate the services of the Court for those people that turn to us for justice."