When legislative priorities don’t make sense…

Posted on January 21, 2013

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Something has been bothering us for a few weeks now and we think we need your help in developing an understanding of the why. The thing that has been bothering us is  the Judicial Councils legislative priority of fully funding 50 new judgeships when current judges statewide don’t have enough staff to operate a courtroom and that most of the current judges without staff are reduced to pushing paper because they have no court staff.

It doesn’t make any sense to us to fully fund 50 more judges when they will have no staff to support them, nor an open, available courtroom to conduct the courts business. What we do see is that funding these positions amounts to a permanent increase in the funding going to the branch in general. New money to remodel, renovate or add more courtrooms. Statewide, over 200 courtrooms have been closed by 1.2 billion dollars in budget cuts. Dozens of courthouses have been shut down. Thousands of court employees have lost their jobs. Hundreds of judges currently do other kinds of work that does not require a full compliment of court staff because there is not court staff to support them.

So why would we hire another 50 judges to do little more than sit around waiting for – or looking for something to do?

The only thing that comes to mind is the money that would go towards AOC’s operations to accommodate 50 new judgeships. Construction money, pegged at 750K per courtroom. Additional operations monies to run those 50 courtrooms. While it would cost a small fraction of that to take one of the 200+ courtrooms out of mothballs, there seems to be no effort to re-open existing courtrooms or courthouses and that re-opening of these courtrooms or courthouses is not a legislative priority.   Someone a few weeks ago gave us a figure and indicated a fully staffed courtroom, with supporting staff in the courthouse have an operational cost that is pegged at 2.4 million dollars.

Yet even in our analysis of current court budgets, that figure seems outlandish when considering current allocations as many courts seem to be able to operate a courtroom for less than a half million dollars per year. When one analyzes the facts on the ground, adding even one more judge (or even filling a judicial vacancy) makes no sense until the existing courtrooms are re-opened to serve the public.

Until existing judges have enough staff to actually conduct the courts business. What appears is that the JC\AOC gets a big lump of cash to build or remodel a courtroom, the balance of the funds aren’t dedicated to that courtroom but are redistributed via a formula so that everyone gets a share of this operational money, leaving everyone in the same existing lurch of not having enough staff to open the courtroom they built or remodeled.

It doesn’t make any sense to us. If it doesn’t make any sense to us, how could it make any sense to the other two branches of government?

We’re hoping there is someone out there that can explain to us via the private message window or a comment why it makes sense to add an additional 50 judges when over 200 judges occupy mothballed courtrooms today without any support staff. To access our private message window, click here :https://forms.hush.com/judicialcouncilwatcher – Note that if you are in-the-know, we might have additional questions and wish to confidentially converse with you over this subject.