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IBA Editorial: Court Funding in Critical Condition Nationwide

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IBA-hebenstreitOne of the corner stones of our American system of jurisprudence is free and open access to the trial courts and judicial system. The ability of businesses to solve their disputes in an orderly fashion and the predictability of outcomes encourages business to be conducted in our country. The ability of our prosecutors to charge, and our system to try those accused of crimes, helps insure the pubic safety. It is a concept dating back to the Founding Fathers. But that system is in jeopardy throughout our country.

There has never been an overabundance of cash to fund the Courts, but the system has been dramatically worsened as a result of the recession and the resulting decrease in tax revenues. Without adequate sources of funding, it is easy for legislatures to cut the budgets of the judicial branch of the government—the branch that cannot raise taxes.

According to a report of the ABA, a fully funded court system receives 1 to 2% of state or local budgets. Not a significant line item, but one frequently cut. Unfortunately, unlike many other state or local agencies, the largest expense of the judicial system is the cost of personnel. To cut personnel typically translates to reduced services or a longer delay in providing the same services. In order to cope with the loss of revenue, courts around the country have adopted dramatic measures. Some courts in Iowa have closed their clerk’s office one day per week. A recent article about the San Francisco Superior Courts reported that some 40% of employees were going to suffer layoffs and 25 of 63 courtrooms were to be shuttered. Many states have delayed filling judicial vacancies and others have frozen judicial income for inordinately long periods. Others have furloughed clerical staff and others have cut the ability to have a timely jury trial.

The Courts in Georgia have seen a 25% reduction in funding over the last two years. Their current funding represents only 0.89% of the state’s overall budget. That has resulted in criminal cases taking over a year to be resolved and a reduction in court time for civil cases.

Unfortunately, the budget cuts have also come at a time when there has been an increase in need. As a result of the recession, the number of foreclosures, debt collections, and divorce/family law cases has increased dramatically. Florida has seen more than its share of foreclosure cases and has experienced quite long delays in the foreclosure process. This has resulted in many abandoned properties becoming eyesores and further deteriorating the economic value of neighborhoods. The ABA estimated that in Florida alone there had been a $10 billion dollar loss due to quantifiable costs and expenses attributed solely to court delays.

Another factor contributing to the domino effect is the rise in pro se litigants. As the need for legal services increases and the ability to pay for legal services decreases, more parties are choosing to go it alone. This also creates more pressure on the court staff and the judicial system. Funds for the Legal Services Organization have been slashed by Congress this year with the future looking even bleaker. In Indiana, the IOLTA funds have historically been helpful in funding pro bono and indigent legal service providers. Due to the lower interest rates, the funds that used to flow into the coffers from all of our trust accounts has virtually gone away—at a time when the need has risen tremendously. The Indiana Pro Bono Commission is currently weighing its options to deal with the situation on a statewide basis. The only thing for certain is that with fewer funds, the ability to serve the needs of Hoosiers will necessarily be reduced.

Until the current budget for the City of Indianapolis was recently published, it was feared that the Marion County Superior Courts would suffer significant cuts. The Executive Committee of the Superior Courts had been reviewing options how to deal with a smaller budget. Fortunately, according to two members of the Executive Committee, Judges John Hanley and Marc Rothenberg, the budget for the Courts as currently proposed is a flat line—no major reductions, but no more money. This is certainly good news and we applaud the efforts of our leaders from both parties. However with the increased need for services coupled with the increased cost of providing the same level of service, a flat line approach does amount to a budget reduction. Let’s hope that in the process of passing a budget, the City County Council does not negatively modify the flat line approach. I urge the legal community to stay informed and to communicate to our county leadership the importance of access to the courts for both civil and criminal matters.•

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  1. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  2. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  3. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

  4. If it were your child that died maybe you'd be more understanding. Most of us don't have graves to visit. My son was killed on a state road and I will be putting up a memorial where he died. It gives us a sense of peace to be at the location he took his last breath. Some people should be more understanding of that.

  5. Can we please take notice of the connection between the declining state of families across the United States and the RISE OF CPS INVOLVEMENT??? They call themselves "advocates" for "children's rights", however, statistics show those children whom are taken from, even NEGLIGENT homes are LESS likely to become successful, independent adults!!! Not to mention the undeniable lack of respect and lack of responsibility of the children being raised today vs the way we were raised 20 years ago, when families still existed. I was born in 1981 and I didn't even ever hear the term "CPS", in fact, I didn't even know they existed until about ten years ago... Now our children have disagreements between friends and they actually THREATEN EACH OTHER WITH, "I'll call CPS" or "I'll have [my parent] (usually singular) call CPS"!!!! And the truth is, no parent is perfect and we all have flaws and make mistakes, but it is RIGHTFULLY OURS - BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS GREAT NATION - to be imperfect. Let's take a good look at what kind of parenting those that are stealing our children are doing, what kind of adults are they producing? WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPED FROM THEIR FAMILY AND THAT CHILD'S SUCCESS - or otherwise - AS AN ADULT.....

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