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Blomquist: Funding our Guarantors of Democracy

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blomquist-kerryWelcome to the world of federal “sequestration.”

Wait, stay with me. I know. There are as many opinions about this as there are shoes in my mother’s closet, but one thing seems clear: what began with the enactment of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act in 19851 and its call for mandatory budget cuts if Congress failed to meet its budget reduction deadlines has now resulted in just that. As of this writing, “sequestrations” began just a week ago and although the total impact has yet to be either fully explained or experienced, changes are occurring, cuts are being realized, and programs are being affected as we speak.

This column is not a review of our nation’s budgetary woes, nor is it a referendum on how or indeed whether we balance the federal checkbook. Those discussions are being held, blogged, tweeted and broadcast everywhere and anywhere by people who seem convinced that they know best. The First Amendment is a beautiful thing.

This column is a loud and clear request to keep access to justice issues in the front of our cost cutting brains, because it is worth the underline to say that our third branch of government is what guarantees this democracy. Our local, state and national courts cannot suffer further funding cuts and come out of this unscathed.

Although it’s a challenge to separate the reality from the hype when discussing impact of sequestration on our court system, it is a necessary dialogue, and numbers and potential impact must be shared. It is undisputable that federal courts, many of which have had to cut spending in recent years, are bracing for further reductions as federal sequestration kicks in. Numbers suggest that federal court funding will drop another five percent in 2013 as a result. That is cutting past sinew and into bone say most experts, and because some expenditures such as judicial pay are untouchable, what is touchable is being touched with a sledgehammer.

This has translated into forced layoffs resulting in understaffed courts, failure to modernize computers and necessary software, the inability to provide even basic administrative services to citizens and practitioners,2 delayed civil trials and even limited hours and days of court accessibility. (#justice-delayed-is-justice-denied)

In response, the American Bar Association recognized inadequate court funding as a priority issue in 2012 and again this year in 2013. At the ABA Midyear meeting in Dallas last month the ABA Board of Governors passed a series of resolutions including the following:

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal elected officials, as they consider deficit reduction for fiscal year 2013 and beyond, to maintain the ability of individuals, as well as business and other organizations, to have access to justice by assuring that…the federal courts receive funding adequate to permit them to perform their constitutional functions effectively and efficiently...

Lets face it, when our rights are infringed upon, our one place to go is the courts. They protect us from abuses of power by corporations or government officials, and protect our most basic Constitutional rights. When access to justice is being compromised because of continued funding cuts, our very liberties are at stake.

So what can we, as members of one of the strongest metropolitan bar associations in this country, do?

First of all, recognize that the funding crisis in our courts does not discriminate. It is an issue to be sure on local, state and national levels.

Secondly, know and communicate that there are very real effects from lack of funding that translate into our citizens and our business owners not being able to rely on our courts for timely relief. That most certainly negatively impacts our economy.

Connect the dots and make the argument that although we are truly blessed with high quality judicial officers who thankfully have chosen public service, they are too often forced to swim upstream in an underfunded court system. We must give our judges the tools they need to do their jobs or you can be sure that our best and our brightest will choose other paths.

Finally, given government spending is now trending wildly unpopular and that too often the general public sees the courts as “just another agency,” remind those that will listen that indeed it is not. Flashback to effective civics classes that underline that pesky separation of powers, and recognize and communicate that only an independent judiciary with predictable and sustainable funding truly fulfills its constitutional obligation. After all, a well-functioning judicial branch is a constitutional imperative, not an optional luxury.
__________

1 Yes, that was 1985 when many of our young lawyers now were being happily conceived, probably during the congressional debate itself.

2 Indeed, bring your own paper if you want copies and be prepared to be invoiced every time you fax the court a pleading.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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