Here are the quick courts-related highlights from the final budget proposed by the General Assembly, likely to be voted upon and sent to the governor this week:
- 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.
No new funding is provided for the courts, which continue to be understaffed, overworked and woefully behind the times in terms of technology.