Butte County court employees face layoffs
State funding is cut under realignment
At the end of next June, some 11 Butte County Superior Court workers will find themselves out of a job. They are the blue-blazer-, gray-slacks-wearing, unarmed court attendants who staff the metal-detector and x-ray machines in the Oroville courthouse and work inside the courtrooms in the Chico branch, looking for potential troublemakers, doing paperwork and assisting the bailiffs, who work for the Sheriff’s Office.
The attendants, who’ve been on the job locally for the past 14 years, are actually employed by the state, which until recently funded the 58 county court systems for the attendants. But they have become victims of the state’s ongoing budget squeeze that continues to drain local government agencies.
In October the attendants were given notice that their employment will cease at the end of the fiscal year due to AB109, the public safety realignment law, which is better known for sending certain state prisoners to county jails for their incarcerations.
“They are court employees, and under our court’s local control,” explained Kimberly Flener, the executive officer for the Butte County Superior Court. “We were funded by the state and hired them with Judicial Council money allocated to each court. That ended July 1.”
Now the money from the state goes directly to the county sheriff, she said, meaning the sheriff’s office is solely responsible for all court security. The state, she added, “regularly under-funded” the court.
The county was required to give the attendants, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union, only a two-week notice. Instead Flener sent a letter to the union supervisor, Ian Arnold, on Oct. 12, nine months before the June layoffs.
“Due to the unprecedented State budget reductions to the Judicial Branch budget,” Flener wrote in her letter, “it has become necessary to inform you that these budget cuts have made it necessary for the Court to implement a reduction in force beginning fiscal year 11/12.”
She said she was giving early notice both to provide the affected employees time to look for other work and to let them know that the Butte County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of creating new job descriptions to fill some of the vacancies. She wanted to give the attendants the heads-up so they could apply.
A court attendant who asked not to be identified said he’s been struggling with the matter since he first learned of it. He said Superior Court Judge Steven Howell indicated in an interview on Sept. 29 that there would be no court layoffs in connection with the state budget. A week later the layoff notice was issued.
“A court attendant is an unarmed bailiff,” he said. “In Chico we run the courtrooms, and in Oroville we operate the x-ray screening and metal detectors. And we are in the juvenile family courts, where really weird stuff can happen.”
He said court attendants are the lowest paid of the court security workers.
“But the CEO [Flener] and the undersheriff [Kory Honea] said we are no longer needed.”
He did commend Flener for giving the early notices.
“She said she would let us know if we were going to be impacted, and she did keep her word,” he said.
For his part, Honea said dealing with the state’s ongoing budget crunch “has been chaotic.”
“We’ve been flying by the seat of our pants, trying to anticipate what the state is doing,” Honea said. “This fiscal year Butte County got shorted $279,000 [in state funding]. That creates real problems when working with the court system. Fortunately we have a real good working relationship. We gotta live here.”
He said seven to 10 new positions will be created, and the current attendants will be encouraged to apply.
This is far from solved, Honea said.
“The big question is what happens next fiscal year in relation with the state. There are no guarantees.”