San Joaquin County Courthouses Closed as 30 Bailiffs Take a Sick Day

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SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY -- Three courthouses in San Joaquin County were forced to closed Tuesday after the sheriff's department said there was a shortage of bailiffs.

Whether they came to do their jobs or fight for justice, people were turned away from the San Joaquin County courthouses in Stockton and Manteca, as well as the juvenile hall.

“They just had all these little shabby tables out here,” said Stephanie Davidson. “So I was like what’s going on?”

While court staff worked to arrange future accommodations, Niesha Fortune, who was contesting a traffic violation, said she left even more frustrated.

“I’m just pissed off to be here,” she told FOX40.

San Joaquin County Deputy Andrea Lopez said without warning, around 30 part-time bailiffs called in sick, leading to the emergency closure. Ten full-time deputies remained at the Stockton courthouse as part of their assignment.

“They will not get compensated for today, they do not receive pay, they don’t acquire sick or vacation time,” Deputy Lopez said. “They man courtrooms, they transport inmates back and forth, they provide security in the courthouse. The courthouse is still safe. We do have our full-time deputies there.”

Some services and specific court procedures were still available Tuesday and people were able to drop off paperwork.

“When someone’s in custody, they have to be arraigned within 48 hours and we’re assuring that that’s going to be done,” Lopez explained.

Like the many others who walked away, Fortune said she will have to take more time off from work and away from her kids to continue her fight another day.

“I think it really sucks that they’re having this problem and they're not explaining everything,” she said. “So I really don’t know what’s going on.”

The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office released a statement Tuesday about the closures, which reads in part:

"We knew this was a possibility, but we did not know when or if it was certain to happen. ...

" ... We have been asked if this is regarding the 4.5 year contract dispute. We do not know if this is the reason, but it is possible. In these negotiations, the Sheriff’s Office has no role, but we must deal with the consequences of this dispute along with the community that may experience inconveniences.

"Per-diem employees, many of whom are retired San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office deputies, are both cost-effective and critical to our public safety efforts at our courthouses. ...

" ... Due to budget fluctuations, we have grown increasingly dependent on our per-diem employees and have increased their available yearly work limits from 720 hours to 960 hours. That increase has been a significant help in protecting the courts and the public.

"Again, the Sheriff’s Office is not involved in this negotiation process but is hoping and encouraging the Board of Supervisors and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) to find common ground quickly."

Lopez also said because of the closure deputies did not foresee the dismissing of charges or any releases.

If the bailiffs call in sick again Wednesday, the scenario will play out again.

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