Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category

Top Judge Opposes Bills to Reduce Kansas High Court’s Authority

nuss-cjTwo bills that would reduce the authority of the Kansas Supreme Court were opposed on Monday by Chief Justice Lawton Nuss (photo) in testimony to the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

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

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California: Budget Cuts Force ‘Rationing Justice’

1387113_ME_court-rally_GEMCalifornia’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.”

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Judge: Funding Increase for New Mexico Courts is Needed

6a00d83451b26169e201901f0a2adc970bNew 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.”

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Editorial Supports Increased Funding for N.M. Courts

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.”

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Legislature, Governor Square Off Over N.M. Court Funding

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

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Kansas Bill With Timelines for Judicial Action Sparks Controversy

KS capitolLegislation 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.

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Tap CA Budget Surplus for Court Funding, Editorial Urges

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.”

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Kansas Chief Justice: Without Budget Increase, Shutdowns Ahead

Chief Justice Nuss

Chief Justice Nuss

Unless the Kansas legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback appropriate more money for the state courts, there will be court shutdowns, Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said in his annual State of the Judiciary address.

The judicial branch budget faces a shortfall of $8.25 million in the next fiscal year, he said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “If some additional money is not provided, then Kansas court employees will be sent home without pay and Kansas courts statewide will be closed,” he said. “The only question is for how long.”

Kansans are entitled by the constitution to “remedy by due course of law and justice without delay,” but if the courts don’t get greater funding, they won’t be able to fulfill that requirement, he said. “None of us can make good on our solemn oath of office or guarantee these rights if Kansas courts close.” He also voiced thanks to legislators for a pay raise for some employees of the judicial system, while saying it did not resolve the shortfall for the next fiscal year. Read more

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Letter: More Work Remains to Expand Access to Oregon Courts

In the wake of a report about improved funding for the Oregon court system, “There is much more work to do to ensure our courts receive the resources they need to provide the vital services Oregonians deserve,” says Nate Gulley.

The (Salem) Statesman Journal published Gulley’s views in a letter to the editor remarking on Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer’s recent state of the courts address (see Gavel Grab for details). Gulley, who works on court issues on behalf of Common Cause Oregon, wrote:

“It is promising news that the state of our courts is improving (albeit slightly), but we still have a long way to go in terms of restoring badly needed resources and ensuring access to justice for all Oregonians.

“Funding for Oregon courts plummeted during the recession and has yet to recover. Under-resourced courts and lack of access to public defenders are particularly harmful to low-income folks and people of color who are less likely to be able to afford lawyers. Funding cuts have also meant the courts have no permanent funding for drug courts and other specialty courts that use treatment and frequent court appearances to break cycles of addiction, reduce recidivism and restore communities, all of which save Oregon money over time.”

Common Cause is a JAS partner organization.

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Relief for Federal Courts in U.S. Spending Bill? Stay Tuned

Is there good news on the horizon when it comes to federal appropriations for U.S. courts? Perhaps, a Blog of Legal Times article indicates.

A large appropriations bill proposed by congressional negotiators “would provide the federal courts an increase of $316 million in discretionary spending—or 5 percent above current funding—for the 2014 fiscal year,” the blog reports. The U.S. judiciary is pleased with the level of funding, basically the level sought by the courts in December, said a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

“This is probably the minimum amount of funding the courts could really survive on this year, but it should at least stop the bleeding” from previous cuts, said a spokesman for Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts.

Before it becomes law, the overall legislation must be passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Obama.

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