Bike Messengers Are Victims of Civil Court Closures

Categories: bikes
The final showdown for bike messengers?
As of October 3, 25 civil courtrooms will be closed indefinitely, and the clerks will have their office hours cut by an hour a day. Two hundred court employees will be getting pink slips.

But the compassionate hipster inside us wants to know: What does this mean for bike messengers? San Francisco's tattooed urban cowboys who pedal through traffic in tight jeans on fixies to hit the courthouse before closing time with court docs -- what about them? 

"Bike messengers' primary bread and butter is civil filings," says Ben Thompson, a worker at the criminal courts records room at the Hall of Justice, who just happens to be a former tattooed bike messenger himself. "They're not completely going away, but stuff's not going to happen in civil court for five years, so attorneys are going to be doing a third of the work we were doing before."

The way Thompson sees it, civil law firms might lay off attorneys because there will be less work to go round. That means fewer filings, which means fewer work-related trips for messengers.

Mike Rabdau, an owner and operator at Godspeed Courier, says his company might lose clients for another reason: They don't want to pay the extra time for messengers to wait in the longer lines at the courthouse.

Godspeed charges $30 an hour for messengers to stand in line, and with fewer clerks working, the lines will presumably be much longer.

"I bet our clients will stop and find another way to do it," he says. "Having a guy standing in court for an hour will hurt us in the long run. We'd rather get in and out."

Andrew Brady, owner of King Courier, doesn't believe his business will suffer because of the cutbacks. "What are they going to do?" he says. "People still like to sue just as much as they always have."

Brady says his messengers have already been dealing with early court closures on Wednesdays, which usually just makes Wednesday mornings busier. Plus his business has weathered much bigger setbacks, like when attorneys started filing cases by fax or sharing documents via e-mail. 

Rabdau sees the freakonomics of waiting in line differently. "A legal messenger may not care because they're getting paid for time, but we have to do other work as well, and it bites into other clients as well." 

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Why aren't those documents transmitted electronically? It is nuts that we're still sending pieces of paper all over town.


basic government functions are falling apart, and it is all of us who suffer. If people don't start getting their shit together and do something about it, then you can pretty much kiss the state and the country as we once knew it goodbye, and enjoy the problems of a third world country at first world prices.

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