MARTINEZ (KPIX 5) – Californians seeking a divorce or take care of other legal issues are unable to do so, because of a massive backlog.
“Every day going in we know it’s going to be hell. It’s going to be absolute hell,” said legal courier Cookie Gambucci.
If you come to the Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez to resolve a traffic fine, be sure to feed the parking meter.
“I waited an hour and a half,” said Greg Bahr. Others told KPIX 5 they had to wait up to five hours.
And it’s not just people stacked in waiting rooms. Behind the windows, there is a mountain of backlogged cases, piled up on shelves and crammed into boxes.
“This is not the way a justice system should function,” said Contra Costa County Presiding Judge Barry Goode.
For the past six years, Goode has been asked to do more with less, slashing expenses to the bare essentials and losing more than a third of his courthouse staff.
“We like the fact that we’ve become more efficient in many ways, but we’re beyond the point at which efficiency is the answer to the problem,” Goode said.
People usually think of the DMV when it comes to delayed paperwork and long lines. But the same problem is occurring in California courts, and with serious consequences.
“These bins of documents represent families where the parties have agreed to get divorced, they’ve agreed to every term of their divorce, but we just haven’t been able to process them because we give top priority to domestic violence cases that involve people’s safety,” said Magda Lopez of Contra Costa County Courts.
It’s not just divorces put on hold for months. Across the system, one delay cascades to another.
“Like me, it’s now three years to get a hearing on a trial,” said Tony Di Giovanni of Martinez.
When hearings get delayed, attorneys file more motions. “And it creates more paperwork,” Lopez said.
“You wind up having to do two hearings,” Goode added.
As a result, Lopez said, “And that means longer lines, and more frustration.”
There will be one less window open at the court when someone tackles a full month’s worth of files left in the court’s drop box.
“I think negative feedback cycle is exactly how it would be described,” Lopez said.
Goode told this story of someone waiting in the court. “The woman at the front of the line told me that she comes from Brazil, and she said, ‘it used to be this bad in Brazil, but they fixed it,’” he said.
As it stands now, the courts may have to give up even more funds by the end of June.