Monday, May 7, 2012

Kentucky plans to close courts to offset budget woes

Kentucky will shut its courthouse doors for three days to help cope with a budget crisis reported the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“In the modern history of the commonwealth, I do not know of a time that service to the public has been interrupted because there’s not enough money to keep the courts open,” Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said at a news conference in Frankfort. “... We cut fat before, and we’re now cutting bone.”

Also, drug courts will be cut, hiring restricted and the high school mock trial tournament program eliminated in response to the General Assembly’s $25 million cut to the state judicial branch budget, Minto said in email to more than 3,000 employees and 400-plus judges and clerks throughout the state, reported the Courier-Journal.

Minton also complained that the legislature did not fund a pay-equity plan that would make judicial branch salaries competitive with the other two branches of government, or fund a capital project to replace the court system’s “obsolete” case management system, which he asserted is “at risk for failure.”

The judicial branch already has cut 282 employees since 2008 because of earlier reductions. Now, to avoid more layoffs, Minton said the courts will close their doors and furlough all employees on Aug. 6, Sept. 4 and Oct. 15.

The cuts are only for the first six months of the fiscal year, which starts in July, and Minton said he hopes the economy will improve, making additional measures unnecessary. “If things don’t change, then further furloughs are going to be necessary,” he told the Courier-Journal, adding that leaders are “hoping to avoid the situation of mass layoffs for our folks.”

According to the Courier-Journal, other plans call for increasing the charge to the public for criminal record reports from $15 to $20. Kentucky schools will be charged $10 for criminal record reports that now are free. And more than 100 part-time workers will no longer receive benefits as of June 30, 2013.

The drug court program will be reduced about 15 percent, from an average of more than 2,500 participants down to a cap of 2,200 a month, though current participants will not be affected.

Kentucky Appeals Court Judge Denise Clayton said cutting drug courts seems “counterproductive” when the state is taking other measures — such as releasing people from prison early — to cut the number of people incarcerated.

“We know the drug courts work, so cutting something that works is really unfortunate,” said Clayton told the Courier-Journal.

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