California's Budget Crisis is Not So Golden for Employers Ordering Criminal Background Checks

California's Budget Crisis is Not So Golden for Employers Ordering Criminal Background Checks
Senior Vice President of Operations

California’s ongoing budget issues are becoming known to employers even outside of the Golden State as they seek to obtain criminal search results as part of a background check on current or former residents of that fair state.  Unfortunately, these issues are in no position to improve.   In fact, the criminal court experience will only be worsening, looking toward the rest of 2013 and potentially beyond.  According to the website for the California Judicial Branch, the courts “continue to face significant financial challenges as a result of the current financial fiscal crisis, which the Legislature has recognized as one of the most serious and dire ever to affect the state.”  PreCheck’s clients should understand what that means and how it will impact their background checks.  First, consider that criminal records are maintained at courthouses, and these records are accessed in order to complete a background check. If a court is closed or facing a reduction of staff and/or hours of operation, this absolutely will impact the timeliness of criminal record searches from that court. 

Los Angeles County clearly sees a lot of activity, being the most populous county in the U.S., according to data from the 2010 U.S. Census.  That county alone will see eight courthouses close this month.  Of those eight courthouses, four accept filings and hear misdemeanor or felony cases.  An article in the LA Times in March 2013 stated that the court has lost 24% of its employees over the last four years, while workload continues to increase.  In that same article, David Wesley, presiding judge of the L.A. County Superior Court explained the devastating impact of the budget cuts on victims, defendants, lawyers, police departments, families, and businesses.  Clearly, the court staff understands the big picture.  Keep in mind that this is nothing new to LA County.  In 2012 there were $30 million in staff reductions that were effective by June 30th of that year, removing staff from 24 civil courtrooms, 24 criminal courtrooms, three family law courtrooms, one probate courtroom and four juvenile delinquency courtrooms.

PreCheck has seen California’s challenges affect employers even outside of the state for quite some time, and it’s only poised to worsen given these anticipated changes.  In Los Angeles County alone we’ve experienced a 1.5 day additional delay in receiving results from the courts in a comparison of 2012 to present day.  Average delays in other counties are similar. 

We’ve focused quite a bit on LA County for this article, based on the volume of criminal record inquiries received there and the size of its population, but the budget crisis affects many counties.  According to the California Courts website, no fewer than 11 counties are seeing changes in 2013 as result of the budget cuts.  Those changes run the gamut of court closures, reassignment of cases, reduction in staff, and reduction in business hours available to the public.  The Hon. Gary D. Hoff, presiding Judge of the Fresno County Superior Court, paints the picture in his notice to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Due to the 24% reduction to trial court funding, a number of cost-saving measures have been implemented within their courts “including closing seven courts, unpaid employee furloughs, freezing vacancies, layoffs, reengineering court processes for efficiencies, and reduction of expenditures for services and supplies.” This, unfortunately, has resulted in significant impact to the staff in the clerks’ offices – the very individuals who file documents, process cases, and prepare court calendars.  They don’t have ample time to do this and serve the public on inquiries for criminal records or post payments, arrange court dates, etc.  To be able to support all of their tasks, they will now have to reduce the hours that they serve the public.  You can see the snowball effect of cost-cutting measures and their impact to the public.  Lest we forget, criminal search inquiries for the purpose of background checks fall under the realm of service to the public.

What can you do to cope with the California Court System crisis?  The show must go on, the best, most qualified candidates will be picked, and you will find yourself on the receiving end of delays in California even if you are not a California employer.  Whether you are or are not, we suggest allowing as much lead time as possible in the background check process to contend with these delays when there is potential for criminal record searches in California.  It is also a good time to review the scope requirements for your criminal history searches.  For example, standard practice is to look at the last seven years of an individual’s residential and employment history and to perform criminal history searches in those corresponding counties. You may have expanded your policy to look as far back as 10 years for certain positions. Now could be the time to revisit this expanded policy to ensure it still makes sense. PreCheck will make you aware as opportunities arise to voice your concerns to the courts, lawmakers, and state officials. 

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