LOS ANGELES — The nation’s largest court system is in the midst of a painful budget crisis that has shut down courtrooms and disrupted everything from divorce and custody proceedings to traffic ticket disputes.
The Los Angeles court system has already closed 17 courtrooms and will shut down 50 more in September unless it receives more money. The judge who presides over the system predicts chaos and an unprecedented logjam of civil and family law cases in the worst-case scenario.
The crisis results from the financially troubled state’s decision to slash $393 million from state trial courts in the budget this year. The state also closed all courthouses on the third Wednesday of every month.
What has emerged is a hobbled court system struggling to serve the public.
Custody hearings, divorce proceedings, small-claims disputes, and civil lawsuits have been delayed. Drivers who choose to fight traffic tickets now have to wait up to nine months to get a hearing.
Complex civil lawsuits, those involving feuding businesses, for instance, could really feel the hit. It now takes an average of 16 months for such cases to get resolved, but court officials expect the cuts to increase the average time to about four years.
“On any given day, 100,000 people go in and out of our courthouses,’’ said Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr., who presides over the Los Angeles system. “That’s a Rose Bowl full of people.’’
The criminal courts are immune from the cuts.
The Administrative Office of the Courts accuses McCoy of being “overly pessimistic.’’ It is opposing McCoy’s proposal to divert $47 million from a courthouse construction fund into the general operating budget.
A hearing on the proposal is scheduled for today.