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Promising economy measures and programs that pay back the state by cutting penal costs, the administrative head of the New Jersey judiciary asked legislators Wednesday to forestall further cutting the courts’ budget. “The judiciary is careful in our spending,” said Acting Administrative Director of the Courts Philip Carchman, asking the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee not to look to the courts for opportunities to help balance the state’s projected $33 billion budget. “We cannot eliminate court sessions to accommodate budget cuts,” he said. The courts’ 2008-09 budget has already undergone a $27 million cut. Under the projected $793.2 million budget, Carchman said the judiciary still must lose more than 300 jobs, mostly through attrition, to save $18 million; defer upgrades in technology to save another $6 million and find ways to save $3 million more. As examples of court programs that offer a sort of capital return, Carchman cited the newly expanded drug courts program and the Intensive Supervision Program, both of which divert criminal defendants from costly incarceration. The drug court program is slated to receive $26.4 million next year, $5.8 million more than the current year. The Legislature earlier this year eased drug-court eligibility requirements, which the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services projects will factor into an increase in participants to 3,871 next year from 3,331 this year. By diverting defendants, mostly non-violent drug offenders, away from incarceration and into treatment programs, “we will avoid spending $58 million in incarceration costs,” for a net savings $19.5 million, said Carchman. “By that analysis alone, drug courts provide a real cost-saving for the state.” He estimated, based on federal statistics putting pre- and post-natal costs of caring for a drug-addict infant at about $250,000, a $31.8 million cost-avoidance for 127 babies born to mothers who have successfully completed treatment programs before giving birth. ISP, another diversionary program for non-violent offenders, is budgeted to receive $13.96 million next year, an increase of $1.29 million. It is expected to divert 1,275 defendants from prison. Still, court business is up. Carchman said the judiciary is anticipating a record number of filings this year and next. For instance, 49,000 mortgage foreclosures are expected this year, double the number from 2006. And Special Civil Part filings will likely reach an all-time high of 621,000, an increase of 100,000 over the last court year. “By the end of the year there will be historic highs” in the total number of filings, he testified. Another cost factor is higher judges’ pay. A salary increase is scheduled to go into place in January 2009. Trial judges will earn $165,000 a year, up from the $157,000 they presently earn. Judges’ salaries are higher at appellate levels. Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner will earn $192,795 as of Jan. 1, up from $183,182. Associate justices will earn $185,482; Appellate Division judges $175,534; assignment judges $171,731; and Tax Court judges $165,000. Responding to a query from Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, Carchman said there presently are 35 Superior Court vacancies out of 428 positions. Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, asked how many cases could be considered backlogged. Carchman said there are 27,000 in total. “That is a matter of concern,” Carchman said, “although it is far better than the 57,000 backlogged cases a couple of years ago or the 79,000 about 10 or 12 years ago.”

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