Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category
In Kansas, where tensions between state legislators and the state Supreme Court have been noted (see Gavel Grab), the state Senate was to consider on Thursday a bill to increase funding for Kansas courts, as long as the state Supreme Court doesn’t strike down any portion of the bill if it became law.
Parts of the legislation would allow local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission; and take away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court and Court of Appeals judges.
The legislation was reported by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The National Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
Innovation for state courts in Wisconsin is stymied by a cut of $17.6 million in the biennial budget for the judiciary, an Appleton Post-Crescent article says.
“The court system is facing unprecedented cuts, and the level of court system budget reductions will continue to have consequences,” Director of State Courts A. John Voelker said. “Left unaddressed, the funding issues will begin to affect the court system’s ability to effectively serve the people of Wisconsin.”
Fewer national experts will be able to come to Wisconsin and address state jurists as one result of the cuts. As an example of the kind of innovation fostered through Office of Judicial Education programming, the article mentioned an initiative in Outagamie County to have commissioners set bond for criminal defendants based on evidence-based risk analysis rather than on a judge’s experience and instincts.
Bills passed by the New Mexico legislature would add five new judgeships and help residents get court decisions more quickly, and also would increase salaries for underpaid judges statewide, the New Mexico State Bar president writes in an Albuquerque Journal commentary.
Regarding all of the measures she discussed, Anderson appeals for the governor to sign them and concludes: “Taken together, these bills will help strengthen New Mexico’s judiciary, which, in the end, benefits the thousands of New Mexicans who find themselves in our courts every year.”
Chief Justice Nuss questioned whether legislation to take away the high court’s authority over the state court system’s budget, and allow 31 judicial budgets administered by each district instead, might be unconstitutional.
“So if this 37-year-old unified court system is to possibly be changed, why not let the people of Kansas change their mandate through a majority of a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment?” he asked, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Or if there is absolutely no question about the constitutionality of SB 364, then at a minimum why not have a thorough study of this proposed change — as was done in the late 1960s and again in the early ’70s?” Read more
California’s courts have sunk so far into a fiscal hole in the past five years after repeated rounds of budget cuts that even a $100 million increase proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown won’t fix the problems. It would take a $244 million increase just for the courts to “tread water” in 2014-2015, state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says.
An article by MintPress News, an independent online news service, shows how extensively the cuts have reduced people’s access to justice: To pay traffic tickets, people have been forced to wait in line four hours in San Francisco; cuts have led to shorter business hours across the state; 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms have closed; court user fees and legal fines have increased; and it takes at least a five-month wait to get a trial of a traffic case in San Diego. Also, 11 counties are on the record saying they can’t process restraining orders in domestic violence cases on the same day they are filed; and parents in child custody cases have to wait up to 17 weeks for mediation in Stanislaus County.
Justice Cantil-Sakauye and fellow judges have likened the situation to “rationing justice” and warned that a civil-rights issue is now looming. “People have a civil right, and therefore a constitutional right to have their issues resolved in a fair way,” the presiding judge in Riverside County, Mark Cope, said. “When they can’t get into court to have those issues heard … it’s a violation of those rights.”
New Mexico’s court system urgently needs five new judges to deal with spiraling caseloads, and it is important for the legislature to ignore politics and deal with facts in considering a funding boost, Judge Alan M. Malott (photo) of the 2nd Judicial District writes in an Albuquerque Journal op-ed.
Judge Malott adds his voice to a rising debate over the appropriate funding level for New Mexico’s courts in fiscal 2015. You can learn background and details from Gavel Grab. According to Judge Malott, a decade-old study recommended adding the five judges statewide, and caseloads have only increased much more since then.
“The executive branch has proposed no budget increase for the judiciary,” Judge Malott adds, and that effectively would amount to a budget cut. He concludes, “As a simple matter of fact, denying reasonable funding for judicial operations and reasonable compensation for our judges is just politics.”
New Mexico courts — and the citizens they serve — deserve a “bigger slice” of the “state government funding pie” when legislators finalize the next budget, an Albuquerque Journal editorial said.
Gavel Grab mentioned earlier that a Legislative Finance Committee proposal would increase funding for the state courts by $6.7 million, but Gov. Susan Martinez is advocating merely a $1.3 million increase. The editorial called the LFC proposal reasonable and elaborated this way:
“And it’s important to note this isn’t really about funding the courts. It’s about funding the services the courts provide to the thousands of New Mexicans who find themselves in the judicial system every year – and the public that counts on the system to determine guilt, innocence and punishment designed to protect the rest of society.”
New Mexico’s bipartisan Legislative Finance Committee is urging a $6.7 million increase for funding state courts — a hike of 4.5 percent — but Gov. Susana Martinez says that’s way too high and the increase should be $1.3 million, or less than 1 percent.
Referring to the courts, state Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Democrat, told the Albuquerque Journal, “This is one of the few branches of government that stepped to the plate and said we’ll find ways to try and make this system work during the most difficult times (of the recession). And we have some catching up to do.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office, on the other hand, said other public agencies got lesser increases in recent years than did the courts, and the courts should now take a back seat. Read more
Legislation sponsored by the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee would set time limits for judges to render their decisions. An editorial in the Hays (Ks.) Daily News criticized the bill as apparently blurring the separation of powers among government’s branches and said, “Choosing to ignore the intentional walls for one purpose likely will open a floodgate of unintended consequences.”
The editorial called the measure “a bad idea” and made a pitch for adequate funding of state courts. “The judicial branch already has standards in place to ensure speedy trials and timely decisions,” the editorial said. “Rather than potentially unconstitutional meddling, legislators instead should properly fund the courts to ensure they remain open. That likely would have greater effect.”
Perhaps Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, who is pushing the bill, was “emboldened” by the legislature’s action last year to dismantle merit selection in the naming of Court of Appeals judges, the editorial noted.
The Kansas legislation is similar to legislation filed in the New York Assembly, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The Center is a JAS partner organization.
With California legislators eyeing different uses for a state budget surplus, a Sacramento Bee editorial has endorsed spending some of it to restore adequate funding for state courts.
After hearing from California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye(photo) about the courts’ funding needs following a period of recession and major budget cuts, the editorial opposed an increase in court fees and fines:
“Cantil-Sakauye is right to say that we don’t want ‘pay to play’ – one justice system for the well-to-do and another for everyone else. All Californians should get their day in court in a timely fashion.”
The editorial noted that during California’s budget crunch, the state has closed more than 200 courtrooms, reduced hours in other courts and laid off, or not filled the positions of, hundreds of employees. It concluded, “To do justice, however, the overall pie needs to grow. While the state may not be able to afford the courts’ entire three-year blueprint, which calls for more than $612 million in 2014-15, it can’t afford to do nothing.”