By Jessica King
The clock is ticking for persons wanting to handle legal matters at the Ramona branch of San Diego County’s Superior Court system. The local court is closing Sept. 3 due to state budget cuts, handing off most of its business to the El Cajon branch.
The decision to close the Ramona branch was not an easy one, according to San Diego Superior Court Executive Officer Mike Roddy.
“There’s going to be some widespread impacts due to the state budget reductions,” said Roddy, noting officials tried to hold onto the local branch as long as possible.
Faced with a $14 million shortfall this fiscal year, the court system is closing six criminal courtrooms and one civil courtroom in downtown San Diego, Ramona and Vista, as well as consolidating other court services, such as downtown and North County probate services.
Officials also are cutting about 250 jobs, or closing or restructuring more than 40 courtrooms over the next two years. Total cuts for those two years could be more than $40 million.
The impact of reductions will fundamentally alter the way in which the court does business, Presiding Judge Robert Trentacosta said upon first announcing the impending closures earlier this summer.
The Ramona branch is off the corner of Main Street and Montecito Road in a single-story complex that also houses the San Diego County sheriff’s substation and a county health services office. The branch has been kept open with a barebones staff for years.
During most of the week, a single clerk handles business matters during typical business hours. On Fridays, a judge from the El Cajon branch makes the trek to Ramona to handle matters the clerk cannot, including trials in the branch’s small courtroom. It usual takes only half the day.
The vast majority of cases handled through the branch are traffic tickets, said Superior Court spokeswoman and Ramona native Karen Dalton.
Aside from traffic tickets, the Ramona branch handles landlord-tenant disputes and, occasionally, small claims cases.
It serves not only Ramona proper but some of the county’s most remote backcountry, including Santa Ysabel, Julian, Warner Springs, and Borrego Springs.
About 6,600 legal cases were handled at the Ramona branch last year, said Roddy.
A dedication plaque outside the Ramona branch is dated 1973. The building is owned by the county and will remain county-owned for the time being, said Roddy.
“We’re going to hold onto the space to see what happens,” Roddy said, hinting it is possible, though unlikely in the near future, that the branch could reopen some day.
“I think we’d like to hold out hope that things could turn around (but the state budget reductions are impacting everything),” he said.