Thursday, March 31, 2011

Budget Crisis Hits Courthouses

The budget crunch that has effected nearly every state in America is beginning to have an impact on court systems across the country and will in turn affect those who look to the courts to right a wrong, seek protection or expect the just imposition of punishment.

Just this week three states sounded the alarm.

Callie T. Dietz, administrative director of the Alabama Unified Judicial System, announced recently that there was an immediate need to cut 150 employees in the system to meet the across the board cuts declared by Governor Robert Bentley to balance the state's Gen­eral Fund budget, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

The state judicial system plans to lay off juvenile probation officers, staffs for judges, law clerks and bailiffs, and could cut more if the system does not receive more money than the Governor recommended for the coming year.

New York's Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, said recently that the reduction in financing would require hundreds of layoffs — at least — and would include courthouse personnel, not only back-office staff, though court officials would not be specific about the kinds of workers who might be let go, according to the New York Times.

“It will have a tremendous impact on the system,” Judge Lippman said in a telephone interview with the Times. “At a minimum, you’re going to see delays in the administration of justice, without question.”

The cuts to the court system, which has about 15,500 employees, came two months after Governor Andrew Cuomo chastised the judicial branch for not agreeing to a 10 percent reduction in spending that he imposed on state agencies.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille asked for $348 million for 2011-12, considerably more than the $277 million that the recommended in the state budget, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The courts' budget has been balanced in the last two years only by transferring millions of dollars from an account intended to upgrade computer technology. But that account will run out in a year or so.

There are now just over 1,000 judges in the state system -- 550 magisterial district judges, 460 Common Pleas judges and 31 in the three appellate courts. Justice Castille told the Post-Gazette he intends to trim about 50 district magistrates. The number of Common Pleas judges can be reduced only through new legislation.

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