2013 State of the Judiciary Address By Ky. Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr.
Testimony before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary
Thursday, January 31, 2013, 1 p.m. EST
Capitol Annex, Room 171
Chairman Westerfield, Chairman Tilley, Members of the Judiciary Committee and Guests,
Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I always appreciate your time and the
opportunity to provide you with an update on the state of the Kentucky judiciary.
Allowing me to meet with your committee on a regular basis is beneficial to both branches of
government. The court system benefits when legislators understand and support our role in
administering justice. The legislature benefits when the court system operates smoothly and
has adequate resources to efficiently administer justice.
We respect the constitutional role of the General Assembly to set policies and enact laws that
govern the lives of Kentuckians. And we hope you respect the role of the judiciary as your
partner in state government. We exist to apply and interpret statutes and case law and
precedent, but more importantly to serve as the institution of state government whose central
purpose is to preserve the sacred principle of equal justice for all.
I appreciate the judges, circuit court clerks and court staff who are with me today. I may be
calling on some of them to assist me in responding to any questions you may have.
Before I begin my comments today, I would like to take a moment to recognize Justice Wil
Schroder, my dear friend and longtime colleague who served with me on the Supreme Court
and the Court of Appeals. After nearly 30 years of judicial service, Justice Schroder
announced his retirement earlier this month to address health issues.
Wil is a man of integrity who brought to the bench an unwavering commitment to the law and
to the people of his district. The other justices and I will certainly miss his presence on the
Supreme Court of Kentucky
Chambers, State Capitol
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
John D. Minton, Jr.
Chief Justice of Kentucky
STATE OF THE JUDICIAL BRANCH BUDGET
I would like to begin today with an update on the Judicial Branch budget before focusing on
our recent successes and the challenges we face in the coming year.
The 4.3 million people in Kentucky generate nearly 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 are now more than halfway through Fiscal Year 13, which began on a grim note as we
faced an additional budget cut of $25.2 million.
As aggressive as we have been in addressing prior reductions, this latest cut hit us especially
hard. For one thing, 86 percent of our budget is tied to personnel, which leaves us little room
to trim costs outside of our workforce.
Instead, we decided to make deeper cuts to programs and operating expenses where we could,
impose even tighter restrictions on filling personnel vacancies and place a cap on the number
of participants accepted into Drug Court.
But that still wasn’t enough to balance this year’s budget. After a great deal of deliberation,
we decided to take the drastic measure of closing courthouse doors. This was the first time in
the court system’s modern history that we had to shut down because of a funding shortfall.
For three days in August, September and October 2012, the Judicial Branch furloughed all
non-elected employees for a total savings of nearly $1.2 million.
This meant that services at all four levels of the court system were unavailable to the citizens
who needed them. I can tell you with all candor that this was one of the most disheartening
actions I have had to take while serving as chief justice.
My concern over closing courthouse doors goes far beyond three days of inconvenience to our
customers. Growing caseloads and declining budgets hinder the ability of the courts to swiftly
and efficiently render 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.
You will continue to hear me raise the issue of the need for adequate court funding as we head
into Fiscal Year 2014, which presents an additional shortfall of $28.7 million. While we have
realized sufficient savings to avoid other furloughs through June 30, 2013, we are looking at
measures to fill the funding gap for the next fiscal year.
New Court Case Management System
I also want to update you on the status of our technology program. The last time we were
together, I explained that one of my primary concerns was the status of the court system’s
obsolete case management system, which is at risk for failure.
Our current case management system is based on technology that is nearly 25 years old and is
running on programming that is more than 10 years old. The tools used to maintain the system
became unsupported in 2008.
I mentioned during my last address to you in December 2011 that our system still works and
we still maintain it, but no one knows how much longer this Band-Aid approach will work.
Now, 13 months later, we are still in a dire situation. We continue to operate with an
inefficient system that requires us to maintain a separate database in each county. That means
we maintain 120 databases for our current case management system at the trial court level.
We also maintain separate systems and databases for the appellate courts. None of these
systems are able to communicate with one another, meaning that we cannot share case
information among counties or levels of the court system.
I said it in December 2011 and I will say it even more emphatically today: We must replace
our old system as quickly as possible before there is a catastrophic failure.
With nearly 1 million new case filings each year, a system failure is simply not an option.
That is why I included language in my last budget recommendation for authority to bond the
first phase of a project to create a sophisticated new case management system that will be the
foundation for Kentucky to adopt e-filing.
I remain hopeful that our bonding authority can be revived this session so that the Judicial
Branch can begin to meet this critical need. We believe with your support and approval, this
project can be authorized this session without any additional general fund appropriation to pay
the costs of the bond.
STATE OF THE JUDICIARY
Despite our financial challenges, we have not stopped short in our tracks. I find it heartening
that our judges, circuit court clerks and court employees can still find new ways to do
business and improve the experience of our customers.
Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court
As this committee learned during the November meeting at Fort Campbell, we recently
announced the opening of the Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court, the first court of its
kind in Kentucky.
This is a unique resource for veterans in Jefferson County, who now have access to a court
that provides treatment and support services to help veterans stabilize their mental health and
recover from addiction. The team includes judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment
providers, veterans’ justice outreach specialists and others dedicated to providing important
services to veterans.
The project is funded by a three-year, $350,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance of
the U.S. Department of Justice. We anticipate serving 25 to 30 veterans a year.
I am happy to report that we have received grant funding for a Hardin County Veterans
Treatment Court team to attend Veterans Treatment Court training. This is the first step
toward applying for an implementation grant. We are also applying for training grants for
Veterans Treatment Courts in Fayette and Christian counties.
These four counties are home to the majority of Kentucky veterans and the addition of a
Veterans Treatment Court will provide much-needed assistance to those veterans who are
impacted by the justice system.
Drug Court Cap Lifted
I mentioned earlier that we had imposed a cap on the number of Drug Court participants as
part of recent budget reductions. The caps, which took effect in May 2012, set the number of
participants at 2,200. The current number of participants has dropped to 2,015, which is well
below the cap.
The lower numbers are partly the result of the caps and House Bill 463, which created
additional alternatives, such as deferred prosecution and presumptive probation, for low-risk
defendants who have had limited contact with the court system. These new sentencing
alternatives have significantly reduced the number of participants entering Drug Court.
In response to Drug Court judges who expressed concern about the negative effect of
declining numbers on the Drug Court program, I lifted the Drug Court cap in November 2012.
Drug Court waiting lists have been suspended and judges are admitting eligible Drug Court
participants through the normal admission procedures. We hope this can be more than a
temporary measure. However, Drug Court must still generate a savings of 16 percent, which
was the reason for implementing the cap.
We have also had discussions with Drug Court judges about what type of participant benefits
most from Drug Court’s intensive supervision. While Drug Court has traditionally served a
lower-risk population, research has shown that the program is more effective in meeting the
needs of high-risk/high-need defendants, who may be referred from probation violation
hearings or shock probation motions.
Based on research and on Kentucky Drug Court’s proven track record for saving costs and
saving lives, I am encouraging Drug Court judges to give special consideration to accepting
high-risk/high-need individuals into the program. This will help ensure that Drug Court
resources are targeted to those most likely to benefit from the program.
Pretrial 24-Hour Rule
In October 2012, the Supreme Court took steps to stem high employee turnover in Pretrial
Services by suspending the 12-hour presentation rule required in RCr 4.20 and amending it to
reflect a 24-hour presentation rule.
The Supreme Court took this action to ease the effects of crippling caseloads and other
pressures on Pretrial Services staff statewide. This is a significant change for Kentucky
pretrial officers, who have operated under a 12-hour rule since 1976.
Kentucky has the only statewide pretrial release program in the country with a rule requiring a
specific time frame after arrest in which to complete an investigation and make recommenddations
to the court. Other states do not require specific time frames. Federal pretrial
programs comply with the 48-hour probable cause requirement of County of Riverside v.
By way of background, the role of a pretrial officer is to interview a defendant and make a
recommendation regarding release within 24 hours after incarceration. The recommendation
to the judge is based on an assessment of the defendant’s flight risk and anticipated criminal
If the judge determines that a defendant can be released pending trial, the judge can apply a
broad range of release alternatives. These include release on a defendant’s own recognizance,
an unsecured bond, a cash bond combined with home incarceration, supervision through
Pretrial Services’ Monitored Conditional Release Program or drug testing.
Since House Bill 463 was enacted in 2011 to reduce incarceration costs, Pretrial Services has
seen a significant jump in its supervisory caseload. From June 2011 to October 2012, pretrial
officers supervised an additional 1,100 defendants and had an additional 36,733 defendant
contacts as part of the Monitored Conditional Release and diversion programs. Other
legislative mandates and local rules have also contributed to the complexity of their work.
As a result, the turnover rate for pretrial officers was very high. For a time Pretrial Services
was operating with only 63 percent of the necessary workforce.
We’re reversing those statistics after only three months of using a 24-hour rule. Pretrial
Services currently has only 17 vacancies, the lowest rate in years. Pretrial officers have more
time to conduct interviews and supervise high- and moderate-risk defendants. They also have
more consistent work schedules. In 29 rural counties, we have reduced the number of trips to
the jail and eliminated split shifts, which required staff to work half of their hours in the
morning and the other half in the evening.
It’s also important to note that although the 24-hour rule is in effect statewide, most counties
continue to provide pretrial services in less than 24 hours in order to handle the caseload. This
is particularly true in urban areas, which have the highest volume of arrests. The 24-hour rule
has been more widely implemented in rural areas, especially those with an average of less
than five arrests in a 24-hour period.
The other good news is that the 24-hour rule has had minimal impact on the jails. Ninety-two
percent of defendants are still presented within 12 hours.
In closing, I can say that the state of the judiciary is strong but showing strain. I am
enormously proud of the people who work in the court system in Kentucky – the non-elected
employees as well as the elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks who work in every
county across the state. I thank each and every one of them for their dedication. Many of them
have assumed extra duties when the jobs of co-workers have been eliminated by layoffs or
attrition. Their efforts are critical to ensure that the courts fulfill our constitutional obligation
in the face of undeniable and unprecedented fiscal challenges.
That concludes my prepared remarks and now I will be happy to take your questions.