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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Underfunded Courts Will Erode Justice

This granite courthouse in the Bronx took a decade to
build (1905-1915) and has been abandoned since 1978.
Achieving justice in the United States is never a given.  There are many factors that affect an outcome in the courthouse: the relative skills of the attorneys; the time a matter takes to get to trial; the personality of the judge; the backlog of the judge's docket.

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".
According to ABA, "the underfunding of the judicial system threatens the fundamental nature of our tripartite system of government."  To borrow a cliche that also captures the spirit of this problem: "justice delayed is justice denied."

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Anonymous Divorce Lawyers Virginia said...

I am totally agreed. There has been erosion in the level of legal representation and that this has had a detrimental impact on the legal system and the delivery of justice.

Divorce Lawyers Virginia

November 9, 2011 at 5:21 AM 

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