Budget cuts, slower courts?

August 13, 2008
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It’s budget season in Indiana, and counties across the state are preparing their 2009 budgets. The tough economic times are leading counties to ask departments to find even more ways to cut spending.

The courts, too, are being asked to find ways to reduce spending. Lake County courts may be asked to cut 10 to 20 percent from its budget – an across-the-board recommendation from the Lake County Council for all government departments. After initial cuts, Carroll County judges questioned its county council’s request that they reduce their budgets even further and go back to budgets from 2003. They reached an agreement with the council in June regarding their budget.

Cutting courts’ budgets is an issue counties are facing statewide. While it’s reasonable to expect every department to find ways to trim spending, how far is too far? When the ability to properly function is compromised as a result of reduced staff, it may be time to re-evaluate the budget. When courts are forced to cut support services or add or increase fees, it affects how the court operates. If courts are unable to keep up with the increasing caseloads, it will lead to an even greater backlog of cases waiting to be heard. Defendants will sit in jail longer, leading to possible overcrowding and potential lawsuits (which will take even longer to hear because of the backlog.)

Should courts be subject to the same percentage of budget cuts being asked of other departments or should county councils make exceptions for the courts? How can courts that have no other choice but to drastically reduce spending cope?
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