Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cost Cutting Hits Courts

New Jersey

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cost Cutting Hits Courts

That's the title of Tresa Baldas' report for National Law Journal. LINK

The economy has snagged its latest victim: the judicial system.

A growing number of courts across the United States are taking cost-cuttingmeasures that include postponed trials, full- and half-day shutdowns, reduced hours for court personnel and unfilled judicial vacancies. Furloughs, both voluntary and involuntary, are being implemented.

According to the National Center for State Courts, at least 20 states have either cut their budgets, reduced their court hours or postponed trials to save money.

New Hampshire has taken the most drastic measure, halting all civil and criminal jury trials for one month to save on juror per diems. Most of the furloughs are taking place this month. Also, last week New Hampshire Governor John Lynch proposed closing a quarter of the state's district courts to help deal with the state's budget deficit.

Vermont recently ordered six one-day shutdowns of all courts to save money, in addition to closing courts half a day per week. Minnesota has shut down many clerks' offices a half day each week to save money, closed a satellite court in one county and reduced use of retired judges to hear cases. Iowa recently ordered all courts closed on Feb. 16.

"I think it's a tragedy that the courts have to take this step," said Ray Blase, an assistant county prosecutor in Polk County, Iowa.

To limit the effect on the public, Iowa's Feb. 16 shutdown falls on a federal holiday - Presidents' Day. But for Blase, there are still negative, legal consequences to the closure. It means the courtroom at the county jail will be closed for a day, essentially forcing all inmates to wait 48 hours - instead of the usual 24 - before they can see a judge."We've always had someone there, 365 days a year. I guess now it's 364," he said. "Justice delayed is justice denied."

Blase's comments are being echoed by lawyers all over the country, many whose own cases, they claim, are being compromised due to budget cuts and court closures.

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