Gavel Grab

ABA Leader: Courts, Like E.R.s, Need Adequate Resources

Courtrooms are like an emergency room: You want everything to go smoothly if you end up there.

That’s one of the plainest analogies offered yet in an effort to drive home the impact on real people of the state court funding crunch, and it comes from William T. Robinson III of Kentucky, president-elect of the American Bar Association.

In a National Law Journal commentary, Robinson identifies and documents a “distressing trend”:

“For several years, the American Bar Association has observed a distressing trend in state court funding — our judiciaries are being starved. Courts handle ever increasing caseloads while resources dwindle. If we do not reverse this trend, inadequate court funding will prove disastrous for the administration of justice.”

The examples that Robinson cites are legion. In one county court in Ohio, you have to bring your own paper to the courthouse to file a new case. In Georgia, vendors are asked to donate pens and pencils to the courts. In North Carolina, the Wake County Bar Association undertook a drive to gather paper and toner donations, to ensure that parties could swap documents in serious criminal cases.

In New Hampshire, he continues, civil jury trials were suspended for 12 months. And in Alabama, a daytime call to a family court went unanswered, but for a message saying money ran out for staffing the line. Robinson sums up why these cuts have real consequences:

“Our neighbors and elected officials should be reminded that a courtroom is like an emergency room. Most people hope they never have to be rushed into one, but when they arrive they want everything to go smoothly. Like doctors in an emergency room, judges need the tools of their profession to serve the public. Pens are the scalpel, paper is the suture, administrative staff are the nurses.

“There is no issue more important to the legal profession and the public at large right now than the health of our judicial system. Even in times of extreme economic hardship, our courts need adequate resources to fulfill their constitutional duties. The emergency room should never be closed for lack of funds — neither should a court. There should always be money to have someone answer a phone and direct a critical patient to the hospital. There should always be enough money to answer a phone and tell a parent where to find information about a custody hearing to protect his or her children.”

The article is entitled, “The real costs of shortchanged courts.” The ABA is a JAS partner group, and you can learn more about court funding cuts by visiting Gavel Grab.

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