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EXCLUSIVE: A busing crisis is hampering Los Angeles courts after a powerful local agency slashed funding to the sheriff’s office in long-simmering feud — an operational breakdown that is jeopardizing cases, officials told Fox News Digital.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which allocates money to maintain the department’s fleet of prison transport buses, have been publicly clashing since he took office.
“The Board just really doesn’t care about public safety or the Constitutional rights of inmates,” said Villanueva, who has accused the Board of waging a personal vendetta against him.”They don’t want me to succeed, and they don’t care who they hurt.”
The collateral damage from the power struggle has had wide-ranging consequences.
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Only 50% of the department’s fleet of prisoner transport buses are operational, causing significant courtroom delays and sometimes outright case dismissals, according to Villanueva and a prosecutor.
The five-member Board of Supervisors is the governing body of Los Angeles County. The members are elected to four-year terms and distribute funding to various departments —including the sheriff’s office.
Since Villanueva took office in December 2018, the Board has not purchased a single bus for prisoner transport, said the sheriff, whose department runs the county’s jails and provides deputies for courtroom security.
Prior to Villanueva’s term, the department typically bought five buses a year to replace those that had aged out.
Back in 2018, there were approximately 60 buses dedicated to shuttling inmates to and from 37 Los Angeles Superior Courthouses scattered around the county— the largest prisoner transport operation in the nation, according to Villanueva.
But the lack of funding has resulted in just 30 functioning buses to move 1,200 to 1,500 prisoners a day, said Villanueva, adding that the Board isn’t even coughing up cash for repairs.
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The sheriff’s office has resorted to supplementing its operation with vans that only hold 12 passengers, compared to buses that can each accommodate between 47 and 53 inmates. This also results in deputies working significant and unnecessary overtime.
“We have clunkers on the road that are breaking down constantly,” he added. “When one of our buses break down, it’s full of a bunch of very dangerous inmates.”
Supervising prosecutor Jason Lustig, of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said the bus shortage has become a “headache for the whole court system.”
Lustig said that he was not speaking on behalf of the prosecutor’s office but in his personal capacity as a citizen of the county.
“It’s becoming like a third-world court system,” he said. “Everybody is waiting around all day to know if and when the inmates will get to court, and the taxpayers are paying for it.”
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Private defense attorneys, who represent indigent defendants, are billing the county to wait around all day and police officers waiting on hearings are getting overtime, he said.
Civilian witnesses, who often have to miss work for a hearing, may have to return the next day because an inmate never materializes.
Lustig said sometimes those witnesses don’t come back at all, and they have to dismiss cases.
The problem has gotten particularly bad in the last five months and is taking a toll, Lustig said.
“When the public comes to court and sees the system doesn’t have its act together it generates a lack of confidence in the courts,” he told Fox News Digital.
Villanueva is facing a tight runoff against retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in November.
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Four of the five supervisors voted to include a measure on the upcoming ballot that would ask voters to give the Board authority to remove an elected sheriff it doesn’t like. Villanueva called the measure a “cheap political stunt.”
The Board and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
Matteo Cina contributed to this report