Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category

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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California Has 'Most-Cut Judiciary' in Nation, Judge Says

gavel_jarofcoinsCalifornia’s courts, having faced funding cuts totaling $1 billion since 2008, are now desperately underfunded, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told an audience in Marin County.

As a result of the cuts, 51 courthouses have closed. That comes at a time when there are 7.5 million new cases a year, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

“We have the dubious distinction of being the most-cut judiciary in the United States,” the chief justice said.

A budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown would furnish an additional $100 million in 2014-15 for trial court operations, but state court officials say that represents but half of the sum taken from the system’s reserves to keep operating.

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New Law Could Hamper Courts in Serving Kansans: Editorial

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is unfortunate that Kansas legislators recently passed a state court funding bill that also might make it harder for the courts to carry out their work in serving Kansans, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed the legislation, which will 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 judges (see Gavel Grab).

According to the editorial, “The legislation removes the Supreme Court’s ability to shift funding to districts that may face unexpected expenses, such as the cost of a capital murder trial. Putting administrative judges in charge of budgets, with limited supervision by the Supreme Court, also may raise some concerns about how those budgets are managed, particularly in the 14 state court districts in which judges are elected in partisan elections.” Read more

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KS Justices 'Troubled' After Brownback Signs Court Overhaul Plan

brownbackKansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed on Friday legislation opposed by members of the state Supreme Court that provides increased court funding while making those funds contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system.

“The Supreme Court of Kansas has strongly opposed this bill since its creation,” the court’s members said in a statement, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We are troubled now that it has been signed by the governor. It weakens the centralized authority of the Kansas unified court system in exchange for money to pay our employees and keep courts open. And the money it provides still may fall short of even doing that.”

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