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The recession is forcing cutbacks at state courts across the country. New Hampshire will stop holding jury trials for the most part this month and in four months in 2002. Florida courts have a hiring freeze. Courts in Seattle face layoffs. And the California judiciary has slashed $61 million from next year’s budget. Other states, such as North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, New York and Illinois, are facing budget cuts or bracing for them in the next fiscal year. The picture may be most grim in New Hampshire. Court officials there say they will suspend civil and criminal jury trials during this month and during April, July, August and December 2002, except for previously scheduled first-degree murder and capital trials and those involving a speedy-trial issue. The action came about after the New Hampshire Legislature ordered a $4.4 million cut from $57.2 million in funds appropriated for the courts this fiscal year, an appropriation that fell below the $59.6 million requested, according to Don Goodnow, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts for New Hampshire. “Our objective was to allocate the reduction among the many appropriation lines in our budget in such a way as to minimize the impact of the reduction on our ability to carry out constitutional and statutory obligations and deliver effective service to the public,” Goodnow wrote in a memo to court staff. In addition to cutting back jury trials, the state will eliminate the use of per diem judges in probate court, spend only $100,000 of $400,000 requested for new equipment and forgo almost half of the $1.9 million requested for court security. The latest budget cut will mean dismissing some 46 part-time officers and rehiring them for less pay. The lack of trials will be a setback for New Hampshire lawyers, who have enjoyed a fast-moving docket. Parties could get a trial date 12 to 14 months from filing, says Peter Hutchins, president of the New Hampshire Bar Association and a partner with Manchester’s Hall, Hess, Stewart, Murphy & Brown. Court-mandated alternative dispute resolution streamlined litigation and will soften the effect of suspended jury trials, but only for a while, says Hutchins. Goodnow predicts that the postponement of trials will create a civil backlog. SEATTLE MAKES THE CUT The Seattle area district courts, the city’s trial court of limited jurisdiction, will likely face a $2.8 million cut in 2002. This is expected to require the district courts to lay off roughly 10 percent of its courthouse administrative staff, or about 29 people. In addition, the courts face the loss of $800,000 in sheriff’s department funds that would have been used for courthouse security, according to Peter Koelling, chief administrative officer for the King County District Courts in Seattle. Part of the crunch facing trial courts in King County is a result of the creation of new cities, which drain sales tax revenues from the county, according to Judge David Steiner, presiding judge of the King County District Court. “We will do our best not to harm the public,” Steiner says, explaining that deep cuts will compromise the courts’ ability to handle cases “in a timely, efficient and fair manner.” That’s small comfort to the legal community. “I think we are on the brink of a crisis,” says Ralph Maimon, president of the King County Bar Association. “Somehow we have to look at the whole package of how we fund our courts.” FLORIDA CUTBACKS REACH LOCAL LEVELS Meanwhile, Florida has suffered cuts at the state and local court levels. On Sept. 26, Chief Justice Charles T. Wells issued a memorandum to the state’s chief judges, trial court administrators and marshals, outlining the judicial branch’s response to the state’s revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year. “In light of this situation,” Wells wrote, “I see no alternative but to impose a hiring freeze on all positions in the branch, with the one exception of judicial assistants. Additionally, I am imposing a moratorium on the purchase of equipment or furniture. I also encourage you to make every effort to limit travel in your court and to curtail other routine expenditures.” The state trial courts in Florida’s Broward and Dade counties have suffered other cuts. To save $486,000, Broward eliminated funding of the court’s psychology program, says Carol Lee Ortman, a Broward County court official, while Dade County laid off six to 10 court vendors and employees, says court spokeswoman Nan A. Markowitz. “Based on the revenue shortfall, we anticipate more cuts,” Markowitz says. CALIFORNIA SPECIAL PROGRAMS FEEL THE PINCH California’s relatively recent move to unify its court system under the funding umbrella of the state helps the judiciary adapt to budgetary fluctuations, says California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George. “These structural reform measures enable us to weather these cyclical economic downturns,” he says. Nonetheless, Gov. Gray Davis has asked the judiciary to cooperate with a 15 percent cut requested of all executive agencies, George says. Actual cuts for this year are still in the works, but the judicial branch has already eliminated $61 million from next year’s proposed budget, according to court spokeswoman Lynn Holton. This includes $50 million from state trial court funds earmarked for technology improvements, local research assistance and other programs; $2 million from the appellate court budgets that would have gone to court-appointed counsel, mediation, equipment replacement and technology staff; and $9 million from the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts, including funds targeted for a juvenile delinquency program. NORTH CAROLINA SLOWS HIRING For the time being, North Carolina courthouses will remain open for business full time, thanks to negotiations that trimmed a proposed $12.2 million budget cut to a $3 million cut. The state judiciary already had lost $5.5 million from its current fiscal year’s continuation budget, says Judge Robert Hobgood, director of the administrative office of the courts for North Carolina. Though the courts escaped closing their doors, the judicial branch is instituted a 120-day hiring slowdown for most vacancies, effective Dec. 1, and will try to hold off until July the appointment of two new superior court judges. “In North Carolina the courts are taking an inordinate hit,” says I. Beverly Lake Jr., chief justice of North Carolina’s supreme court. “It’s due in part to the budget being out of balance during the previous administration.” ARIZONA NEGOTIATES Following a request from Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull for all state executive agencies to cut budgets by 4 percent, the judiciary offered to trim $5.3 million, according to court officials. As a result, the judicial branch is holding vacancies open and putting special programs on hold, such as automation improvements. Other states are anticipating immediate or future budget cuts. OTHER STATES BRACE FOR TOUGH TIMES Georgia’s judicial branch has offered to cooperate with the governor’s request for a 2.5 percent cut, but nothing will transpire until the legislature convenes in January, says Sherie Welch, clerk of the Georgia Supreme Court. Courts in Illinois and New York are bracing for tough times next year, though they are not experiencing immediate budget cuts. “We are trying to put into place measures that will make a softer transition to where the state may be going next fiscal year,” says Judge Ann Pfau, deputy chief administrative judge for management for the New York State Unified Court System. “We are expecting things to become very tight.” Although Illinois’ judicial branch is holding on now, the courts expect budget cuts in fiscal year 2003, says Kathy Gazda, assistant director of administrative services of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. With a multitiered funding system, all 22 of the state’s circuit trial courts can be on different fiscal cycles, Gazda says. Texas had to forgo a judicial pay raise this fiscal year, says Bill Hamilton, deputy director of finance and operations for the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin. He says, however, that judges may get all of a proposed 10 percent raise next fiscal year if the economy looks up and provides the state with the necessary revenue.

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