Underfunded Courts Will Erode Justice
This granite courthouse in the Bronx took a decade to
build (1905-1915) and has been abandoned since 1978.
One factor becoming increasingly important in the determination of justice is the funding [or lack thereof] for the judiciary.
Here in Michigan, there are budget-conscious proposals to eliminate trial judges, court of appeals judges, and to shrink the Michigan Supreme Court from 7 to 5 justices.
Referred to as the weakest branch of government in the Federalist Papers due to its inability to control either sword or purse, the judiciary must now fight for its fiscal life here in America, both at the federal level, and on a state-by-state basis, as legislatures scramble to shrink all government budgets.
Here in Oakland County, the county executive, Brooks Patterson, runs a very tight fiscal ship. He has demanded that the courthouse balance its budget; in turn, they have accounted for nearly every penny spent in the courthouse, saving wherever possible.
Patterson's plan has meant a slow attrition among the corps of judicial clerks and other court staff. At the Oakland County Probate Court, this has translated to juggled counter hours and longer lines. Overall, however, the Oakland County Circuit Court's service to the public has not suffered. How long, we wonder, can this continue?
If you have not been to the Macomb County Circuit Court in a while, don't plan your business for the afternoon if it's a Tuesday or Thursday; the clerk's office will be closed.
Elsewhere, courts have not fared nearly so well. In California, for example, $350 million has been cut from the county trial courts since 2009, with even more cuts due by the end of the year. The Economist reported last week that up to 48% of California's county trial courts could be rendered insolvent by the state's budget crisis.
One result of the cuts to courts in California is lengthening the time an uncontested divorce takes to process through the court system; from 6 to 18 months. Trained court staff is needed to process such cases without delay.
In New York, the judges, not having seen a legislated pay raise since the turn of the century, have sued the political branches of their state government. In Ohio, the Morrow County Municipal Court went to a 4-day work week in 2009 and stopped taking new cases for filing because the county failed to requisition sufficient paper.
Some quick stats compiled by the American Bar Association regarding the state of the state judiciaries:
- 26 states have stopped filling judicial vacancies;
- 34 states have stopped filling judicial clerkships;
- 31 states have frozen judges' or clerks' salaries;
- 14 states have closed courts during weekdays; and
- 3200 courthouses have been characterized as "physically eroded" or "functionally deficient".
Labels: American Bar Association, Federalist Papers, Macomb County Circuit Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, Michigan Supreme Court, Oakland County Circuit Court, Oakland County Probate Court, uncontested divorce