Mendocino County law enforcement leaders oppose court cuts

Mendocino County law enforcement leaders united Wednesday to oppose plans to reduce court services in Fort Bragg, saying the cost-cutting measure would limit access for coastal residents and result in fewer officers on the street.

The objection came in a letter to local judges from District Attorney David Eyster, Sheriff Tom Allman and the county's three police chiefs, who asked justices to consider making reductions at the main courthouse in Ukiah instead.

They said it was "ill-advised" to limit the Fort Bragg operation to three days a week by Jan. 1 and move all jury trials, felony and juvenile matters to the inland court, which is 90 minutes away across winding roads.

"Victims, witnesses, jurors, business owners, and other interested coastal residents who already have difficulty attending court proceedings in Fort Bragg . . . will now be forced to undertake an even more daunting and arduous trek," the letter said.

The Fort Bragg Police Department will be hardest hit, the chiefs said. Officers attending court hearings will be drawn away from their duties for extended periods. Now, they are able to patrol the streets and respond to calls while waiting for cases to be called at the Fort Bragg court.

Other agencies including state Fish and Game, the CHP and the District Attorney's office also will be affected, the group of law enforcement leaders said.

"This public service-oriented compromise works well when the courthouse is within a few minutes' drive time," they said. "It fails when the courthouse is 90 minutes away."

Assistant Presiding Judge David Nelson said the court has already cut elsewhere in Mendocino County. About 20 positions have been eliminated in the past four years, he said.

This year the state asked for another $768,000 in cuts from a $5.3 million budget. The court found ways to save all but $200,000 before proposing the Fort Bragg cuts, which save about $50,000, he said.

"None of us want to do this," Nelson said. "We've cut everywhere else we could find. This was another step we could take."

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