Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category

Editorial: Legislation Threatens Balance of Power in Kansas

The Wichita Eagle posted an editorial criticizing the Kansas legislature for punitively striping 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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In California, Continuing Impact From Court Funding Cuts

courtclosedIn California, a state that saw dramatic cuts to court funding during the recession, the impact on residents’ access to justice still is being felt — especially in the civil courts, according to an extensive KQED report.

“It felt like we were just second-class citizens — like it didn’t matter … just settle it for whatever they are giving you,” Maria Reyes said. Her attorney said she had a strong case against her landlord over dismal conditions at her family’s apartment. A San Mateo county judge, however, said a trial date couldn’t be set for  a year. Reyes and her family settled out of court for far less than they thought they could win at trial.

With four county courtrooms shuttered, civil trials in the county are restricted to one or two a week. And it’s not just San Mateo County where the cutbacks still are felt: Read more

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NC Courts Push For Additional Funds

Governor Pat McCrory

Governor Pat McCrory

On Wednesday, North Carolina Chief Justice Mark Martin asked for an additional $16 million for the state’s justice system. The next day, Governor Pat McCrory released his budget proposal, which allocated an additional $6 million instead.

The money has been earmarked for “jurors, witnesses, interpreters, expert witnesses for prosecutors, equipment maintenance and computer hardware and software,” according to the News and Observer. Other plans include adding six lab technician jobs to handle “non-analytic assignments” so the state forensic scientists can focus on a testing backlog, and $8.8 million to establish and improve behavioral-health units in prisons. Tom Murry, a former republican state representative, has been hired to lobby the legislature for additional funds.

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Are Planned Cuts to KS Court Funding Request Part of Larger Battle?

KansasKansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office says his budget proposal pared back by $53 million over two fiscal years the judicial branch’s budget request because the latter hadn’t been submitted in the correct form.

Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael has a different take, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. He thinks the cuts came as part of a protracted fight pitting the executive and legislative branches against the judicial branch.

“Everything in this Statehouse is related to something else,” Carmichael said. “There is a battle between the judiciary, which seeks to enforce the Constitution of the State of Kansas, and the Legislature, which refuses to adequately fund public education, and certainly that is the root of the conflict.” Read more

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Efficiency Standards Not Sufficient to Offset Court Budget Cuts

State judiciaries are rushing to implement higher court efficiency standards in order to cope with insufficient budgets, but case backlogs are still plaguing the system. The Chief Justices of some of these states have been busy publicizing these issues, hoping to convince their respective legislatures to increase their funding.

Montana Chief Justice Mike McGrath reminded legislators in his State of the Judiciary that “small businesses and working people” will be the victims if the court budget is further cut. The Helena Independent Record summarized McGrath’s appeal to the legislature, where he outlined the state’s successful reforms. These include drug treatment programs and the Court Help Program, which provide alternatives to adjudication and prevent dockets from becoming unnecessarily cluttered. Still, with approximately 350,000 cases per year, more cuts threaten these hard-won successes.

Read more

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Editorial: Kansas Legislature Should Protect Court Funding

Chief Justice Nuss

Chief Justice Nuss

“Speedy action by the 2015 Legislature can help stave off furloughs and ensure the courts are open when Kansans need them this spring,” an editorial on said.

The state court faces a $3.6 million budget deficit and Chief Justice Lawton Nuss wants to use “electronic filing management funds” to close that gap. The Legislature would need to lift restrictions on the uses for those funds. Nuss said that diversion of the funds would not harm the e-courts project, because it had already taken in more money than the project intended to use this fiscal year.

The editorial concludes that the Legislature should give the judiciary the flexibility it needs to offset its current budget deficit.

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U.S. Courts: Spending Bill Meets Most Pressing Resource Needs

A $1.1 trillion federal spending bill approved by Congress meets the most pressing resource needs of the federal judiciary, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts says.

“We are very pleased with the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Judiciary,” said Judge John Bates, director of the Administrative Office. “The funding levels are sufficient to enable the courts to operate effectively and we appreciate that Congress has again made the Judiciary a funding priority. Although the federal judiciary’s budget is only two-tenths of one percent of the federal budget, adequate resources are essential for the courts to dispense justice in a timely fashion.”

The federal judiciary will get $6.7 billion in discretionary appropriations for fiscal 2015, an increase of 2.8 percent above discretionary funding for fiscal 2014. The new level is essentially equal to the judiciary’s re-estimated funding request for fiscal 2015, the U.S. Courts said in an online publication, Third Branch News.

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Editorial: ‘Rendering Justice is Being Undermined’

o-NORTH-CAROLINA-CAPITOL-RALEIGH-facebook“[R]endering justice is being undermined by an erosion of funding for the courts,” opines an editorial in (Raleigh, North Carolina’s)

In a time when most states are restoring cuts made to courts during the recession, North Carolina is bucking that trend. Last legislative session another $7.5 million in court funding was cut, bringing the total cuts over the last six years to $80 million.

“The results are a growing backlog of cases, overwhelmed judges, rising court fees, a shortage of legal counsel for indigent people and longer jail stays for the accused,” the editorial says.

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