Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category

U.S. Courts: Spending Bill Meets Most Pressing Resource Needs

A $1.1 trillion federal spending bill approved by Congress meets the most pressing resource needs of the federal judiciary, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts says.

“We are very pleased with the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Judiciary,” said Judge John Bates, director of the Administrative Office. “The funding levels are sufficient to enable the courts to operate effectively and we appreciate that Congress has again made the Judiciary a funding priority. Although the federal judiciary’s budget is only two-tenths of one percent of the federal budget, adequate resources are essential for the courts to dispense justice in a timely fashion.”

The federal judiciary will get $6.7 billion in discretionary appropriations for fiscal 2015, an increase of 2.8 percent above discretionary funding for fiscal 2014. The new level is essentially equal to the judiciary’s re-estimated funding request for fiscal 2015, the U.S. Courts said in an online publication, Third Branch News.

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Editorial: ‘Rendering Justice is Being Undermined’

o-NORTH-CAROLINA-CAPITOL-RALEIGH-facebook“[R]endering justice is being undermined by an erosion of funding for the courts,” opines an editorial in (Raleigh, North Carolina’s) newsobserver.com.

In a time when most states are restoring cuts made to courts during the recession, North Carolina is bucking that trend. Last legislative session another $7.5 million in court funding was cut, bringing the total cuts over the last six years to $80 million.

“The results are a growing backlog of cases, overwhelmed judges, rising court fees, a shortage of legal counsel for indigent people and longer jail stays for the accused,” the editorial says.

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No Further Cuts to the Judiciary, Says North Carolina Advocacy Group

Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey

Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey

The Durham Crime Cabinet, an advocacy group of local government officials and private citizens, has “drawn up a wish list for legislators,” according to The Durham (N.C.) News. At the top of that list: no further funding cuts to the judiciary.

Over $80 million has been cut from North Carolina’s judicial system over the past six years, and it’s not the only state to impose big cuts.

“[A]cross the country, the judiciary’s treasured constitutional role has not spared it from the budget axe. Access to justice is in peril,” said a 2013 study on court funding by Justice at Stake and cited by the newspaper article.

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Local Commissioner: Michigan Facing Crisis in the Courts

County courts in Michigan are short millions of dollars after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that courts could not make defendants bear part of the costs of trials, writes Allegan County Commissioner Jon Campbell in a Grand Haven Tribune op-ed. Courts can only impose fees that are authorized by the legislature.

These courts have been limited in their function since the ruling was passed down in June and are waiting for the Legislature to identify new funding sources (unlikely in an election year) or restore authority to implement “user fees.” Campbell, who urges quick action by legislators in order to avert a crisis, is incoming president of the Michigan Association of Counties.

If the courts aren’t sufficiently funded, citizens could see long delays and large backlogs of cases, limiting their access to justice.

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Solutions to CA Court Budget Crisis May Be Unconstitutional

The budget cuts to the state court system in California is having far-reaching ramifications.

According to East Bay Express, Alameda County is now charging high fees to look at court documents online. Some legal experts say may be unconstitutional.

“Any time you impose a fee or other barrier to access, that’s going to have some effect on those First Amendment rights,” David Greene, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the paper. The high fees affect “the public’s ability to monitor litigation and access the historical record,” he added.

Budget cuts over the past several years have slashed more than $1 billion from the state court system and have left many courts struggling to provide services.

“Sound governance necessitates the implementation of comprehensive cost-recovery strategies,” said Leah Wilson, the executive officer of the Alameda County Superior Court. “The new fees do help to alleviate the difficult budget situation caused by declining state funding.”

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has repeatedly asked the legislature to restore and increase court funding.

Meantime, access to justice will be a little more difficult for those in the Santa Barbara area. According to Edhat, two Superior Court of California, County of Santa Barbara clerks’ offices will close in October.

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Judge: U.S. Courthouse in Chicago Was on Brink of Halting Trials

Judge Castillo

Judge Castillo

Recalling the federal government’s shutdown over a budget impasse last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois said he had to draft a doomsday email about suspending all trials at Chicago’s downtown courthouse and find ways to boost sunken staff morale.

“If the shutdown hadn’t ended exactly when it did, we were out of money,” he told The Chicago Tribune in an interview about his first year in office. The draft email did not take effect.

Judge Castillo also discussed new initiatives that helped the district weather the crisis. They included new technology to help accelerate the pace of trials and competing with other districts to attract more attorneys to bring their large civil cases in Illinois. Read more

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Report: Underfunded State Courts at 'Tipping Point of Dysfunction'

gavel_jarofcoins“[A]dequate court funding is a smart use of the public’s resources,” say the authors of a new white paper on court budget cuts, yet “The sad reality facing America is that many of our state court systems are so poorly funded that they are at a tipping point of dysfunction.”

The report is entitled “The Economics of Justice,” and it was issued by DRI-The Voice of the Defense Bar, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

The white paper examines analyses of court funding that lead overall, according to a DRI press release, “to the inescapable conclusion that underfunding of state court systems results in the loss of hundreds of millions annually to state economies.” Read more

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Opinion: Confidence in the Courts is Impaired by Budget Cuts

California’s judicial budget has been reduced by about 30 percent over the last several years.  A bar association report detailed how budget cuts and financial difficulties affected California courts.  This includes an approximate 15 percent reduction in the number of courtrooms and a projected 470 vacancies among permanent court staff.

Brad Weinreb discussed how budget cuts lead to undermining confidence in the judiciary for an editorial published in San Diego Jewish World. He highlights the difficulties created for families and businesses.

In addition to these operational effects, there is the real world impact on the public, and the bar association report offers several examples. It becomes harder for businesses to prevent rivals from engaging in unfair competition or misappropriating trade secrets, or to develop new products, operate in new markets or hire employees. They also have difficulty enforcing contracts in a timely manner.

For more stories on court funding click here.

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Some States Grapple With Rising Need, and Cost, for Interpreters

interpretersStates with diverse populations are facing a rising need to provide language interpreters in court, and the cost is causing challenges for states with money constraints, the New York Times says.

In its article from Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Times reports, “As the Demand for Court Interpreters Climbs, State Budget Conflicts Grow as Well.” At home, about one of three New Mexico residents speaks a language other than English. Since 2004, a fund that pays the wages of court interpreters has increased by 76 percent, while demand for court interpreters has grown faster.

When Arthur W. Pepin, director of New Mexico’s Administrative Office of the Courts, appeared before a state finance board to ask for additional funds, he warned that he might have to start issuing IOUs to jurors, because their Read more

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Bleeding Over, Yet Pain of Court Funding Cuts Remains, JAS Says

Fernandes

Fernandes

A fiscal 2014 budget bill passed by Congress at least temporarily halted the bleeding for federal courts from funding cuts, but the harm remains, Justice at Stake’s Praveen Fernandes told Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

For Law Day, the legal publication published a lengthy article entitled “Pain of sequestration, shutdown still lingers,” and it quoted Fernandes, the JAS director of federal affairs and diversity initiatives, extensively.

“We in the federal courts community are tremendously grateful for all the work it took to get an omnibus bill passed,” the Law Bulletin quoted Fernandes as saying. That averted a new round of cuts that had been planned under across-the-board cuts called sequestration. Read more

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