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Courts across the country are struggling to cope as declining revenues force states to cut spending. Judicial systems in Alabama, Massachusetts and California face serious budget cuts. Money is tight in New York, but courts are relying on interim funding while legislators work on the budget. The Alabama judiciary’s fiscal troubles peaked in April, when Chief Justice Roy S. Moore suspended civil and criminal jury trials. He rescinded that order after the state liberated $500,000 in emergency funds, according to Richard Hobson, Alabama’s administrative director of courts. That money will tide courts over only until Oct. 1, 2002, the start of the next fiscal year. “It was a Band-Aid solution to a wound that he inflicted,” Hobson said, referring to Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Hobson filed suit in August 2001 to force what he termed adequate appropriations. This year, Alabama courts received $122 million of $124.7 million requested. Rising non-negotiable costs like insurance and mandatory pay raises intensified the $2.7 million shortfall. The result: roughly 175 laid-off temporary workers; office supplies limited to paper, toner and minimal postage; a hiring freeze; no merit raises; no out-of-state travel; and no summer educational conferences. Massachusetts is in similar straits. The trial courts received $40 million less than the $509 million requested for the current fiscal year, said court spokeswoman Joan Kenney. Legislators are telling the trial courts to expect $60 million less than the $490 million requested for stripped down, day-to-day operations for the next fiscal year. Some 800 workers left the trial court system this year through early retirement, attrition and some 166 layoffs, according to Kenney. “The proposed budget cuts would be devastating,” said Margaret H. Marshall, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The 2002-03 fiscal year budget for California’s judicial branch shrank once the judiciary withdrew $144 million in funding requests and suffered an additional $132 million in cuts, according to court spokeswoman Lynn Holton. That would reduce the judicial branch budget from this year’s total of $2.578 billion to $2.499 billion, she reports. Targeted cutbacks for the next cycle include eliminating $23.24 million from trial court operating budgets, delaying $7.2 million in jury reforms and moving $28.11 million to the general fund from a Trial Court Improvement Fund, which will slow efforts to mesh civil and criminal court information systems. While New York struggles with its budget, courts rely on interim funding based on the level of appropriations for the fiscal year that ended March 31, said Judge Ann Pfau, deputy chief administrative judge for management. She said she expects the hiring freeze for nonjudicial personnel to continue.

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