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Deep state court budget cuts are hurting access to justice, according to a recent survey issued by the National Center for State Courts. The survey, released on Nov. 29, tabulated a poll of state courts conducted from July through October. Results indicate widespread recent budget cuts, including 42 states with substantial court budget decreases; 39 states where clerk vacancies were not filled; 34 states where court staff were laid off; and 23 states with reduced court operating hours. The survey is the third poll of state court administrators since early 2010, according to Greg Hurley, an analyst from the center’s knowledge and information services department. Although some states are hardly affected at all and some are dramatically affected, at a national level, “the situation has gotten to the point where it is at its bottom,” Hurley said. “It can’t get a whole lot worse,” he said. Severe cuts have hit states of different sizes and in different regions, he said. “We’ve seen smaller states have problems and larger states as well.” Taking a macro look at the cuts and the number of states involved, it’s clear that the public at large is going to feel the impact, Hurley said. He said that the cuts will slow down cases moving through the system and reduce the number of people around the courthouse to help the public. “They’ll still be able to get that information, but it’s not going to be as easy to get.” Among the survey’s findings are these: New York cut its judiciary appropriation to $2.53 billion in fiscal year 2012 from $2.65 billion in fiscal 2011. The Texas judiciary is primarily locally funded, but the state cut the court budget to $646.5 million in fiscal year 2012 from $671.75 million in fiscal year 2011. Florida’s judiciary appropriation, which was more severely cut in recent years according to Hurley, was trimmed to $458.1 million in fiscal year 2012 from $462.3 million in fiscal year 2011. Illinois’s state appropriation was cut from $310.3 million in fiscal year 2011 to $304.7 million in fiscal year 2012. As for states with smaller populations, Maine’s $61.5 million budget in fiscal year 2011 was reduced to $60.6 million in fiscal year 2012. But Idaho’s increased from $43.2 to $48.3 million in those fiscal years. States facing court budget cuts are taking a variety of steps to do more with less including reducing court hours, laying off staff, delaying judicial appointments, not filling clerks’ office vacancies, using retired judges and restricting travel. Sheri Qualters can be contacted at [email protected].

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