“Remote, unresponsive and inaccessible.” Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian used those words and more last week in his criticism of the county’s court operations.

Simitian, whose District 5 includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, raised his concerns as a discussion item at the Oct. 5 Board of Supervisors meeting.

He spoke of residents being asked to report to the Palo Alto Courthouse only to find locked doors – the office has been closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. After hearing of a constituent trying to call about jury duty, Simitian called the listed number himself and stayed on the line 45 minutes with no answer.

“That doesn’t send the right message to the public about their court system,” he said.

Assistant Presiding Judge Beth McGowen said the pandemic has “severely impacted the operations of the court,” resulting in budget cuts and a 20% reduction in staff – 100 fewer employees. The court, she added, has been forced to make “difficult decisions regarding its priorities.”

McGowen said she hoped the Palo Alto Courthouse would reopen by next March and noted the recent opening of court facilities in Morgan Hill.

Still, Simitian decried the lack of court access in his north county, pointing to the prospect of Los Altos and Mountain View residents having to appear for jury duty at 8:30 a.m. in Morgan Hill.

McGowen pointed out that the courts are funded by the state but have not benefited from the much-publicized state budget windfall of the past year.

In response, Simitian proposed – and supervisors agreed – to lobby the state for additional court funding.