- Cuts funding to the Administrative Office of the Courts by $4 million in each fiscal year (203-14 and 2014-15).
- Restores funding for 22 magistrates, and calls for a study of how magistrates are allocated throughout the state.
- Provides no funding for Drug Treatment Courts. The governor had proposed $3.6 million in funding for these courts, which he highlighted when he announced his budget.
- Lets Rep. Justin Burr have his way, changing the configuration of district courts in the eastern part of the state so that his county, Stanly County, is a stand-alone district.
- Does not cut funding for court reporters, but calls for a study on their use and compensation statewide.
- Does not transfer attorneys general to the agencies that they represent, but calls for a study and recommendations by the 2014 regular session.
- Cuts funding for the Prisoner Legal Services contract by $890,000. The governor had called for a $231,000 reduction.
- Reclassifies certain low-level offenses to misdemeanors punishable by fines, as opposed to jail time, resulting in a projected $2 million savings from not having to provide counsel for those so charged. (Under the Sixth Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court case law, only defendants charged with offenses punishable by jail time have a right to counsel). This means that those charged with such offenses can now be convicted — and have a criminal record with all the attendant collateral consequences — without counsel to represent them.
Big money pouring in for judicial elections. Legislators slashing court funding and trying to eliminate judges.
That might sound like the state of things here in North Carolina, but as discussed in this ABA Journal piece, the war on state courts is being waged in plenty of places across the country.
Says former ABA President Stephen Zack:
The legislature would very much like legislative supremacy, but our Constitution requires judicial supremacy. It’s an inherent conflict that makes our democracy work. Our judiciary tells the legislature when they can’t do what they want to do. As a result [of the conflict] we have legislators, instead of deferring to the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government, treating the judiciary like an agency—as if it were a library or another bridge project—and that’s not what it is.
State Budget Director Art Pope wasted no time getting to work after Gov. Pat McCrory was sworn in privately on Jan.5, 2013, reminding all state department and agency heads, in a memo dated Jan.7, that they had until Jan. 11 to submit two percent budget reduction options to his office.
As Governor McCrory begins the 2013-15 budget reparation, these reduction options are needed to initiate the budget preparation process. Agencies that did not submit the requested 2% reductions, must submit them to the Office of State Budget and Management by January 11, 2013. Agencies that wish to review and revise the reductions submitted to this office may submit revised reductions by January 11, 2013.
That’s not good news for the state courts, whose budget has already been “cut to the bone” over the past four years, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts John Smith said in an interview last week. The system is operating at a stress level higher than any he’s seen during his 30 years of involvement there, and added the following in response to the request for reduction options:
Simply put, the Judicial Branch cannot sustain another budget reduction at this level without sending people home. My highest priority at this time is protecting our workforce against another reduction and the damaging effect such a reduction would have on citizens trying to access justice.
Among the items that Smith ranks as urgent are the reinstatement of at least 28 magistrate positions; restoration of the court employee step pay plan; and approximately two million dollars in funding to cover additional interpreter services, expert witness fees and the costs of the Racial Justice Act.
In addition, Smith said, the courts need to fill approximately 700 to 800 positions — superior court clerks, district court judges, additional magistrates, assistant district attorneys and support staff — in order to meet current workload demand.