Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category
State judiciaries are rushing to implement higher court efficiency standards in order to cope with insufficient budgets, but case backlogs are still plaguing the system. The Chief Justices of some of these states have been busy publicizing these issues, hoping to convince their respective legislatures to increase their funding.
Montana Chief Justice Mike McGrath reminded legislators in his State of the Judiciary that “small businesses and working people” will be the victims if the court budget is further cut. The Helena Independent Record summarized McGrath’s appeal to the legislature, where he outlined the state’s successful reforms. These include drug treatment programs and the Court Help Program, which provide alternatives to adjudication and prevent dockets from becoming unnecessarily cluttered. Still, with approximately 350,000 cases per year, more cuts threaten these hard-won successes.
“Speedy action by the 2015 Legislature can help stave off furloughs and ensure the courts are open when Kansans need them this spring,” an editorial on kansas.com said.
The state court faces a $3.6 million budget deficit and Chief Justice Lawton Nuss wants to use “electronic filing management funds” to close that gap. The Legislature would need to lift restrictions on the uses for those funds. Nuss said that diversion of the funds would not harm the e-courts project, because it had already taken in more money than the project intended to use this fiscal year.
The editorial concludes that the Legislature should give the judiciary the flexibility it needs to offset its current budget deficit.
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.
“[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.
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.
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.No comments
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.No comments
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 moreNo comments
“[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 moreNo comments
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.
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