Broad Negative Impact When Courts Are Underfunded

When our courts are inadequately funded there’s an adverse impact on the locality, the state, and the entire nation, Tulsa Business & Legal News reports based on expert studies.

The article quotes at length from a presentation by author and journalist Lincoln Caplan, and from results of a study by economists of court funding deficits in Los Angeles.

The Tulsa publication says it is running a series about the underfunding of the judicial system. “In this series we look at the long range, but generally unseen impact underfunding is having on society,” an editor’s note says. “Courts have an economic impact on a community that goes to millions and billions of dollars.”

Attorneys: Does New Injunction Truly Protect the Kansas Courts?

Four Kansas district court judges are pursuing their lawsuit that challenges a statute containing a provision viewed by critics as threatening to cut off funding for the entire Kansas court system.

A lawyer for the judges questioned, according to the Associated Press, whether an injunction issued earlier this week was flawed legally; the injunction ordered that the provision in question not be enforced until mid-March when the legislature is in session (see Gavel Grab).

A Lawrence Journal-World article was headlined, “Court funding still in jeopardy, lawyers argue; questions raised about attorney general’s petition for injunction.” (more…)

Will an Automatic U.S. Budget Cut Strain Courts?

In a Newsday op-ed, David P. Miranda, the president of the New York State Bar Association, has warned of grave effects for people who use the federal courts if an automatic cut in U.S. spending, called “sequester” or “sequestration,” goes into effect.

“Our courts are critically important to our society, our economy and our democracy. They serve individuals and businesses and resolve disputes small and large. All New Yorkers will suffer if our reputation as the gold standard for legal disputes is tarnished,” Miranda wrote.

When there was  sequester in 2013, it spelled disaster for the courts, he added. “Yet, despite the costs of congressional failure in 2013, it seems likely — less than two weeks before this year’s budget deadline — that history will repeat itself.”

Will One-Two-Punch Against KS Courts Be Copied Elsewhere?

Is a political strategy pursued by Kansas legislators unhappy with state court rulings one that could be used elsewhere, to dissuade the courts from overturning state laws? A KMUW report suggests that’s the case.

First the Kansas legislature passed a law removing the state Supreme Court’s authority name chief district judges. Later, it passed a law saying that if a court overturned the first law, funding for the entire courts system would be eliminated.

“At a political level, this sort of direct confrontation between the legislative and judicial branch may be a sign of things to come in other states as well,” said University of Kansas Law Professor Richard Levy.

A Shawnee County court has struck down the judge-appointment law but placed his ruling on hold to allow an appeal (see Gavel Grab).

Could Tensions, Law Lead to Shutting Down Kansas Courts?

bnr-HP-01A newly filed lawsuit that challenges a Kansas budgetary provision, described by critics as threatening to defund the entire state judiciary, has sparked debate about whether that could actually come to pass.

“The constitution calls for three branches of government. If it (judiciary) is not funded, it’s de facto elimination of a branch. It’s going to be interesting,” remarked state Rep. Steven Becker, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a Republican and a retired district court judge. Becker was describing a confluence of laws, lawsuits and a court ruling that recently have raised concerns, given restraints and conditions imposed by the legislature on court authority and court funding, about ongoing funding for the judiciary (see Gavel Grab). (more…)

Possible U.S. Budget Cuts Fuel Court Funding Concerns

The potential impact on the courts of possible automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts called sequestration is drawing concern from attorneys and judges.

The presidents of 17 bar associations in New York state warned in a letter to members of Congress that if the cuts are applied to the fiscal 2016 federal budget,  federal courts again face the prospect of “devastating” budget cuts affecting both individual and business litigants, according to a New York State Bar Association press release.

“The functioning of our courts was seriously undermined by the sequester in 2013 and they have still not fully recovered,” the letter said. “We cannot afford a repetition of the 2013 underfunding which resulted in extensive case delays, reduced security and inadequate personnel to carry out necessary day-to-day operations.” (more…)

Shutdown of Courthouses Ahead in Kansas?

bnr-SP-01A court ruling in Kansas this week (see Gavel Grab) put state courts “on a collision course with the state legislature and raised the specter of a shutdown of courthouses statewide,” a Wall Street Journal blog reported.

There likely will be plenty more media attention before the case, about the legislature’s stripping the Kansas Supreme Court of its authority to appoint chief district judges, is through. That’s in part because a separate law passed by the legislature called for defunding of the entire Kansas court system if the chief judge-appointment provision was struck down by a court. (The Shawnee County judge who issued the initial order put it on hold on Thursday so an appeal can be considered.)

Mother Jones magazine reported, “Kansas Republicans May Have Just Shut Down the State’s Court System.” In Kansas, meanwhile, a Wichita Eagle editorial cheered a “Big win for judicial independence.” It scolded legislators who “went wrong” in wresting the appointment power away away from the Supreme Court and then “brazenly tried to ensure the reforms would withstand any legal challenge” by passing the budget proviso. (more…)

Justice at Stake: Ax Now Hangs Over Funding of Kansas Courts

welcome-to-kansas“An ax is hanging” over funding of the entire Kansas state court system because “elected officials … chose to make political pawns of state courts,” Justice at Stake said on Thursday after a ruling by a Shawnee Court judge a day earlier (see Gavel Grab).

Judge Larry Hendricks struck down as unconstitutional a 2014 statute taking away from the state Supreme Court the authority to pick chief district judges. “This ruling is a victory, but more needs to be done,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake, in a statement. Because another law said Kansas courts would be defunded if the provision were struck down, questions immediately were raised about possible defunding of the state judiciary.

“We know that lawyers in the case have asked for a stay of this week’s ruling to prevent that from happening,” Seaton said. “Meanwhile, the health, safety and welfare of all Kansans hang in the balance.” (Later on Thursday, an emergency stay of the order was granted, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.) (more…)

Opinion: ‘Staggering Price’ for Inadequate AL Court Funding

2000px-Seal_of_Alabama.svgThere is a “staggering price in dollars and in human life” as a result of Alabama legislators inadequately funding an overburdened judicial system, activist Clete Wetli warns in an opinion. He commends Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for standing up for adequate court funding.

“Tragically,” Wetli explains, “the concept of a speedy trial has become a punchline in a bad joke as we continue to ask our municipal, district, and circuit court judges to do the impossible with larger caseloads, less staff, and fewer community resources. To add insult to injury, the revenue raised by the court system goes just about everywhere else instead of actually funding the court system, which is forced to beg the legislature for adequate support staff or modest cost-of-living increases.”

Wetli concludes, “Our ‘hung-jury’ legislators need to wake up and realize that the only verdict that makes sense is to increase funding to our court system.”

Column: Kansas Judges are Now ‘The Pariahs of State Government’

slide_241737_1303588_freeThe drumbeat of criticism directed at the Kansas legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for attacking state courts is not abating.

“Kansas judges have been the pariahs of state government ever since Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative lawmakers took over the reins of power,” Barbara Shelly wrote in a Kansas City Star column this week. She outlined a series of past attacks, then zeroed in on legislation passed this year and signed by Brownback for funding state courts, which also would defund the courts if they defy the legislature’s will and overturn a specific statute. That statute takes away the high court’s authority to name chief district judges.

The Kansas Legislature is using funding for the court system as a club to coerce the state’s highest court into a ruling it finds favorable,” Shelly wrote. “Lawyers in Kansas say the maneuver takes their breath away. A staffer at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, which tracks threats to an independent judiciary, says he’s never seen anything like it. Anywhere. Only in Kansas.” She said it crossed the line.