The Malibu Courthouse is slated to close at the end of the month. (Photo courtesy Julie Ellerton)

The Malibu Courthouse is slated to close at the end of the month. (Photo courtesy Julie Ellerton)

MALIBU — The curtain is set to close May 31 on the Malibu Courthouse, a site that has played host to cases involving high-profile names such as Robert Downey Jr., Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mel Gibson.

After the closure, challenging a cop in court, attending a preliminary hearing for an infraction and handling other pertinent legal matters are sure to result in longer lines and delayed hearings, according to Los Angeles Superior Court Spokeswoman Mary Hearn, as L.A.’s remaining courts absorb cases from Malibu and seven other shuttered courthouses.

“It’s going to get worse and worse. Lines are going to get longer, it’s going to take longer to get civil cases heard,” Hearn said.

Though news of the Malibu closure first broke last November when the county announced projected budget shortfalls of up to $85 million in the Superior Court system’s $734 budget, information of where cases would be transferred and how the court’s employees would be impacted only began surfacing recently.

As of June 3, all new and pending Malibu traffic and non-traffic infraction cases will be transferred to the Santa Monica Courthouse, the next-closest court to the Malibu Courthouse. Santa Monica will hear unlawful detainer cases from Malibu as well, while small claims cases go to Inglewood and limited civil cases head to Chatsworth.

Hearn said the county has yet to make the final determination on whether traffic tickets can still be paid at the Malibu ticket counter next to the courthouse.

Felony and misdemeanor cases are being sent off to the Van Nuys Courthouse, forcing Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives who normally work in Malibu to make a bit of a trek for their cases.

Malibu/Lost Hills Station Capt. Patrick Davoren said losing Malibu’s Courthouse not only affects distance traveled by detectives and traffic deputies, but also serves as a loss of familiarity.

“Keeping the judicial system close to home is always the preferred method of operation,” Davoren said. “There’s a little more personal touch when you have it close and the judge and (district attorneys) all know Malibu, as opposed to having bigger cases when you have to drive to a different town where the people working in the court don’t know your area.”

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the Malibu Courthouse handled a total of 45,670 cases, including 35,535 traffic infractions, 4,333 misdemeanor filings and 5,148 non-traffic infractions. Numbers for the 2012-13 fiscal year in Malibu were not yet available.

The Malibu Courthouse’s 13 employees are set to transfer to other courthouses as well, though Hearn acknowledged steep layoffs are in the works and should be doled out before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

“Starting in 2010 we laid off 350 employees, and that began a series of delays and impacts to our system … . Last June we laid off another 300 and closed 56 other courtrooms,” Hearn said. “Now we’re looking at another series of layoffs numbering in the hundreds.”

The Malibu Courthouse opened in 1990 in the town’s Civic Center, neighboring an old sheriff’s substation.

“That was nice,” Davoren recalled. “[As an officer], when you had a case, you just walked next door.”

Now, Davoren’s staff faces a longer commute from Lost Hills to places like Van Nuys and Inglewood.

“Driving to the Malibu court is give-or-take 20 minutes. A major part of our detectives’ day could now be spent driving 45 minutes or an hour in rush hour to Van Nuys or wherever,” he said.  “And that’s extra time that takes away from their time to be out in the field conducting investigations and handling other cases.”

Other courthouses slated for closure at the end of May include Huntington Park, Whittier, Pomona, West L.A., Beverly Hills, two courts in San Pedro and the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in L.A. Several factors played a part in deciding which courthouses would be “repurposed,” Hearn said, including the cost of running the courthouses, prioritization of criminal cases and on-site holding cells.

editor@smdp.com

This article first appeared in the Malibu Times.