Courthouses to close, court services to shut down statewide Aug. 6, 2012 – Chief Justice Minton comments on state of judiciary

Courthouses to close, court services to shut down statewide Aug. 6, 2012
First of 3 furlough days to help balance Judicial Branch budget

FRANKFORT, Ky., July 27, 2012 – Courthouses will be closed statewide and all court services will be unavailable Monday, Aug. 6, as the Kentucky Judicial Branch shuts down for the first of three furlough days in 2012. This will be the first time since Kentucky’s modern court system was formed in 1976 that the Judicial Branch must close courthouse doors to balance its budget.

The furloughs will affect only non-elected court personnel, who will be off work without pay as part of the Judicial Branch’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Reduction Plan. The entire court system will be closed Monday, Aug. 6; Tuesday, Sept. 4; and Monday, Oct. 15. This includes the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, District Court, Offices of Circuit Court Clerk, the Administrative Office of the Courts and all court services, including Pretrial Services, Drug Court, the Court Designated Worker Program, Court Interpreting Services, the State Law Library and driver license branches.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has approved two orders that provide guidance on how the statewide court closures are to be implemented. While the two orders provide more detail, below is a summary of what the public and the law enforcement and legal communities should expect on furlough days:

· Trials and other court proceedings will not be scheduled on furlough days as there will be no staff available.
Items already on the docket for those days will be rescheduled.

· Driver licenses will not be issued.

· The Supreme Court will suspend its rule requiring pretrial officers to interview a defendant within 12 hours after incarceration.
No Pretrial Services staff will be working on furlough days.

· Deputy clerks will not be available to process bonds and no release orders will be issued.

· Existing after-hours protocol will be followed for processing domestic violence orders (DVOs) and emergency protective orders (EPOs).

· Local court designated workers will not be available. The Court Designated Worker Program will have a supervisor available to
ensure that law enforcement adheres to its statutory requirements in cases involving the arrest and custody of juveniles.

· Technology Services staff will not be available to recover the CourtNet database in the event the system experiences an interruption in service.

· County offices that share space with the state court system in courthouses and judicial centers will not be affected.

Furloughs are one of several measures included in the Judicial Branch’s FY 2013 Budget Reduction Plan. The 2012 Kentucky General Assembly reduced the total funds available to the Judicial Branch by $25.2 million for FY 2013. This included a permanent reduction to the annual base operating budget of $16.2 million and a one-time transfer of $9 million in payroll to the state’s general fund on June 30, 2012. Since the economic crisis began in 2008, the Judicial Branch has sustained repeated reductions to its budget and has cut 282 employees statewide, eliminated court programs and trimmed operating costs at all four levels of the court system to stay within its budget.

The Supreme Court and leadership from the Administrative Office of the Courts will meet in January 2013 to determine if additional furloughs and reductions are necessary for the remainder of FY 2013, which runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013. They will also begin drafting a budget reduction plan for FY 2014, which presents an even greater shortfall than in FY 2013.

Kentucky Judicial Branch
The chief justice of Kentucky is the administrative head of the state court system and is responsible for its operation. The Administrative Office of the Courts is the operations arm of the court system. The AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget and supports the activities of nearly 3,300 court system employees and 403 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks.

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Budget Cuts Hollowing Out Court System

By Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr.
Guest Opinion Piece, 531 words
July 27, 2012

As chief justice, I find it disheartening that I can no longer assure you that the courts in Kentucky will be open when you need them. For the first time in modern history, we will have to close every courthouse in the state to balance the Judicial Branch budget. For three days in 2012, we must furlough all court personnel and close all courthouse doors because the General Assembly has not allotted enough money to fund court operations at current levels.

The 4.3 million people in Kentucky generate nearly 1.1 million court cases each year. To meet that demand, the Judicial Branch needs only about 3 percent of the state budget. Yet since 2008 our court system has experienced a cumulative budget reduction of 48 percent.

We began addressing our funding crisis four years ago by downsizing our staff by 282 employees, leaving judicial vacancies unfilled, eliminating valuable programs such as Juvenile and Family Drug Courts, implementing broad operating cuts and streamlining the organizational structure of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the operations arm of the court system.

Responding to deeper cuts imposed in the most recent state budget, we announced a drastic reduction in service by closing courts for three days in 2012, capping the number of adult Drug Court participants and implementing greater restrictions on our personnel complement. In January, we will regroup to determine if we can make it through the fiscal year without taking other significant measures.

Four years of implementing cuts is hollowing out our court system. We must set aside innovative plans for new technology to replace our obsolete case management system and improve efficiency through e-filing. Meanwhile many of our most experienced and dedicated employees are forced to leave for higher paying jobs in the other branches of state government or the private sector.

With great vision, the drafters of the federal and Kentucky constitutions provided for three branches of government, including the judiciary as a separate and equal branch of government. That’s how important our founders considered the role of the courts in our system of checks and balances.

While the constitutional argument for properly funding our courts has been made, the practical argument is just as important. The courts decide matters that go to the very core of our daily lives and the public suffers when the court system is inadequately funded.

The toll of underfunded courts is more than three days of customer inconvenience. Growing caseloads and declining budgets diminish the ability of the courts to swiftly and efficiently mete out justice. Whether it is the state attempting to bring a criminal to justice, or a private citizen renewing a driver’s license or seeking the judgment of a court in a child custody case or a business dispute, the courts are there to protect a person’s fundamental rights under the law.

As citizens of this commonwealth, we need to speak up for the courts. Further financial choking will erode the capacity of the courts to carry out their constitutional duty as an equal partner in state government. The courts must be available to respond to the daily demands for justice, which is truly the most basic responsibility of state government.

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