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How Justice fares in the latest budget

Here’s a quick look at how the compromise budget released last night affects the courts and justice system.

Funding for the Administrative Office of the Court  The proposed budget calls for a $2.9 million reduction of funding for the AOC, but specifies that positions not be eliminated in any district operating at less than 100 percent of recommended staffing levels per the current workload formula developed by the National Center for State Courts.   It also reduces the appropriation for AOC technology services by $500,000, leaving $15 million remaining there.

These are compromise numbers from previous budget drafts.  The Senate had proposed cutting technology funding to the courts by $3.7 million and the remaining AOC administrative appropriation by an additional $1.5 million. The House had called for a flat $4.95 million cut, without specifying where cuts should be made.

Cuts to Family Courts  In this latest version of the budget, Family Courts are left intact.

The initial House budget gutted Family Courts, eliminating $3 million in funding and 36 positions, a proposal in neither the Senate nor Governor’s budget. Those cuts were later reduced to just Family Court administrators, eliminating $962,910 and 11 positions. No cuts to Family Courts appear in the current proposal.

Legal Aid  The latest version contains no provisions for cutting or eliminating court fees that passed through the state bar to Legal Services, but does eliminate the $670,000 Access to Civil Justice grant. 

The Senate had previously proposed cutting the court fees passed through to Legal Services to the tune of $1.8 million. The text providing for these cuts did not appear in a subsequent  compromise draft of the budget (as of June 13).

Public Defender The appropriation for administrative costs at Indigent Defense Services is cut by $466,380.

Both the House and Senate cut funds for indigent defense administrative costs in previous budget versions — the House by $466,380, the Senate by $233,190 (including the elimination of the Public Defender Administrator).

State Bureau of Investigation/Crime Lab In the current version of the budget, SBI is transferred from Justice to Public Safety, but the Crime Lab stays put.

In an earlier version, the Senate also called for the transfer of the Crime Lab to Public Safety.

Three judge courts  Provisions making  substantive changes to the handling of constitutional challenges to state laws, requiring that all such cases be heard in Wake County by a panel of three judges selected from different parts of the state by the Chief Justice (similar to the process with redistricting challenges) have reappeared in the current budget.  Judgments in those cases will be directly appealable to the Supreme Court.

Those changes appeared in the initial Senate version but not in a later compromise draft of the budget (as of June 13).

For more on the initial Senate budget, read here.

For a further comparison of the Senate and House budgets, read here.

 

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