Here’s a preliminary look at how Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget for 2013-14 and 2014-15 will impact the courts.
First the good news:
- Drug courts will return, with approximately $3.5 million appropriated per year and 45 positions restored
Invest in Drug Treatment Courts. Drug abuse and addiction fracture relationships and can have life-altering consequences. Funds are requested for Drug Treatment Courts to provide effective and cost-efficient treatment and support to court-involved persons with substance abuse dependencies.
- Magistrate positions will be restored in the 16 counties now having only three, each of which will get one one more. Approximately $727,000 per year is appropriated and 16 positions restored.
Improve Access to Magistrates. Counties require an adequate number of magistrates to conduct core court functions. This request adds one magistrate in 16 counties that currently have only three magistrates each in order to provide staff to perform duties and minimize after-hours call-backs.
- Constitutionally-required services, such as interpreters, are now appropriated for (as opposed to being paid out of slush funds) at approximately $1 million.
The Administrative Office of the Courts is required to pay interpreters, expert witnesses, and jury fees as needed to operate the state court system. Funds are requested to increase the budget to the prior year’s actual expenditures.
Then the bad news:
- A voluntary reduction in force returns. Somewhere in an already-stretched-thin system there are people — 62 of them –who are dispensable. That’s an assumption that’s hard to swallow when you get out into the courts and talk to people on the ground. The estimated savings in $3.5 million each year.
Create Staffing Efficiencies. Implementation of a voluntary reduction in force and other resource reductions will create efficiencies within the judicial system.
- The groups representing the Clerks of Court and the district attorneys will lose their funding, and five positions.
The Conference of District Attorneys and Clerk’s Conference serve single constituencies within the Judicial Branch. Funds appropriated for that purpose are redirected to support the General Fund.
What’s not there: No funding for additional clerk, district attorney or judicial support staff — all currently at critically low levels. No funding for additional district court judges or magistrates in counties desperately in need of more. No designated funding for technology to bring the court system into the 21st century.
What John Smith, the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, had to say in response:
We currently are reviewing the Governor’s Recommended Budget in detail, but, overall, we are pleased to see that some of our legislative priorities were included. We will continue to work with legislators as the budget process progresses to request that the remaining items on our priority list get included.