Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category

Are Kansas Courts Facing ‘Extortion’ Try by Legislators?

A chorus of critics is finding fault with the Kansas legislature for efforts to link judicial branch funding with how Kansas courts rule on an administrative overhaul measure written into law earlier.

welcome-to-kansas“Sounds a little like extortion, or at least a lesser included offense, doesn’t it?” asked Martin Hawver in a commentary by Hawver News Co.

“The legislature is also on the verge of passing a bill to de-fund the state’s court system in the event that the state supreme court does not rule the way the legislators want, regarding the appointment of lower-court judges. This is a real bill that may pass, not a parody from The Onion or The Daily Show,” wrote Michael A. Smith, who teaches political science at Emporia State University, in the Hays Post. Read more

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Editorial Hammers KS Legislature Over ‘Destructive Ideas’


Kansas legislators continue to attract criticism from state reporters, evidenced by a recent Kansas City Star editorial.

The legislative session has been extended, at the cost of $43,00 a day, to try and cover a historic budget shortfall. One “particularly malicious measure” ties funding for the entire state judiciary to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on a controversial bill that changed how chief judges are selected.

“One can quibble with the method of selecting chief justices. But threatening to defund the state’s court system is a vengeful and dangerous tactic. Basically, lawmakers are attempting to extort Supreme Court justices to rule in the Legislature’s favor or be shut down.

Conservative Kansas lawmakers have been disrespectful of the state’s courts and judges since rulings on school funding and other matters didn’t go their way. But their willingness to deprive Kansas citizens of a working court process is shocking.”

Other suggested changes  eliminating the Kansas Bioscience Authority, and scraping “a sales tax exemption that helps school, local governments and nonprofit hospitals manage construction costs.”

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Judicial Funding May Be Tied To Decision in Kansas

Tension is escalating between legislators and the judiciary in Kansas, where the legislature is prepared to tie funding of the state judiciary to a controversial measure that changed the way the state court system is administered.  Last year, the state Supreme Court was stripped of a number of management and budgetary authorities over lower state courts, under legislation that was widely seen as part of an ongoing series of hostile actions toward the state court system.  The constitutionality of the legislation is currently being challenged in a lawsuit.

Now, the Lawrence Journal World reports that the legislature has approved a budget for the judicial system, with a condition:  it would cut off all court funding if the Supreme Court rules that the reallocation of authority within the court system is indeed unconstitutional. Opponents say the tactic is an overt power grab, with legislators striving to influence the Supreme Court, and question the constitutionality of one branch of government effectively shutting down another branch by de-funding it.  Supporters say it is appropriate for the courts’ budget to be linked to its policies.  

The bill is now before both chambers, and will go to a simple vote with no opportunity for amendments.

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AL Court Officials Say Budget Cuts Would Affect Justice

Alabama’s Administrative Office of Courts warns that jurors would not be paid, there will be a surge in backlogged dockets in family court and for civil disputes, and crowded county jails will become more packed under budget cuts facing the system.

Gov. Robert Bentley “has proposed a $17.8 million cut, leaving $163 million to fund the state’s court system,” according to, and court officials project that “current cuts, mandates and one-time expenses will mean a $27 million cut from its budget and the elimination of 618 employees across the state.”

“This is a crazy, devastating proposition,” said Rich Hobson, administrative director of courts. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore say courts can’t afford the proposed cuts. Read more

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Op-Ed: NM Should Take Politics Out of Judicial Budget

state-flag-new-mexicoMeredith Machen, president of the New Mexico League of Women Voters, called for changes to how the state judiciary is funded in an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal.

The state legislature approved a $750,000 request to cover court operating costs through June, which Governor Susana Martinez vetoed. According to the Machen, the courts have been frugal with their limited budget, and would not need the additional funds if Martinez had not also vetoed a $4 court fee in 2014.

Read more

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Montana Governor Vetoes Judicial Budget Protection Measure

Governor Steve Bullock of Montana vetoed a bill that would prohibit executive interference with judiciary budget proposals.

Gavel to Gavel explains that although 29 states already have similar laws, Governor Bullock worries the bill would put legislative priorities at risk. In his veto message, he said the bill “could force the executive branch to forego its budget priorities in order to fully fund a budget request of the judiciary that has no boundaries or limitations.”

It is not clear if the state Senate will have enough votes (34 needed) to override the veto.

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Deep Cuts for Washington State Judicial System

The Washington Senate budget proposal is composed of many cuts, the most severe to the court system: 23 percent taken from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

This cut, which comes to about a $10 million subtraction, would hit the state hard. The Spokesman-Review reports that if this cut is approved, it would amount “to a 45 percent overall reduction of the agency’s budget.” Washington courts are already the worst funded as a percentage of the budget, at just 0.4 percent.

The poor funding already keeps justice from being performed for many of the state’s most vulnerable: children, anybody who doesn’t speak English fluently, and people who live in rural areas. The website is running on 37 year old software and is not updated regularly. Informational phone lines cannot be fully staffed. Pro-se litigants (those who represent themselves) are becoming more common, unlike the information courts provide them, resulting in longer cases and ultimately more court resources.

The editorial calls on legislators to give greater value to the courts, and encourages voters to do the same.

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Editorial: Legislation Threatens Balance of Power in Kansas

The Wichita Eagle posted an editorial criticizing the Kansas legislature for punitively stripping the Supreme Court of budgetary powers.Seal_of_Kansas.svg

The state’s high court has the constitutional power over “general administrative authority over all courts in this state,” but the 2014 judicial budget countered this provision. Moreover, the law included “a non-severability clause [which] guaranteed that if a court struck down the policy changes as unconstitutional, the judicial funding would fall, too.” Partnered with the court’s recent blocking of some major legislation, the editorial contends that the move sent a “clear message”

The 2015 judicial budget, which was recently approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, contains a similar clause, but specifies the funding will be revoked for two fiscal years if the measure is ruled unconstitutional.

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‘Overzealous’ Judge Requests Lawyers Pay for Courthouse Remodel

Another judge is under fire for fundraising in West Virginia, but not for campaign funds this time. Mingo County Circuit Judge Miki Thompson wanted members of the state bar to contribute to completing a remodel of the courtroom, according to the Charleston Gazette.

The West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from soliciting “funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of office for that purpose.” After sending the initial letter, she sent another assuring the lawyers she never saw who donated, and that all donations would be returned.

The article reports that the upgrades – the first since 1964 – were already underway when the County Commission realized that the funds weren’t there to complete it. Thompson responded by sending the donation request letter, hoping to complete the projects without cutting workers’ hours or laying somebody off, she explains. Still, she admits the letter was wrong, and says she will own any wrongdoing and face the consequences.

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Report: Strings Attached to Bill With Increased KS Court Funding

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopA bill advancing in the Kansas legislature provides more funding for the state courts, on the condition that the courts do not rule favorably for the plaintiff in a recent lawsuit and find a law adopted last year unconstitutional.

That’s according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, which noted, “For the second year in a row Kansas legislators appear poised to give the courts more money on the condition they do not strike down certain laws as unconstitutional.”

A year ago, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation (see Gavel Grab) opposed by members of the state Supreme Court that provided increased court funding while making those funds contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system. The measure allowed local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission and took away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges. Read more

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