Quince briefs legislators on the impact of budget cuts

first_img January 1, 2009 Regular News Quince briefs legislators on the impact of budget cuts Florida’s court system has already seen its budget reduced by $44 million over the past two years and the elimination of 282 positions. Having to absorb another 10 percent cut would cost hundreds of more jobs and seriously compromise the courts’ ability to efficiently carry out its mission. That’s the message Chief Justice Peggy Quince had for legislative leaders in December, as they gathered in Tallahassee to begin looking for ways to plug a more than $2 billion hole in the state’s budget and address a projected deficit that is expected to grow even larger next year.“The court system budget is only 0.7 percent of the state budget, a small amount to be paid to honor fundamental expectations of government,” Quince told lawmakers.Appearing before the House Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, Chief Justice Quince, State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner, and Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Belvin Perry, chair of the Trial Court Budget Commission, set out the cold, hard numbers the third branch of government is dealing with.Here are the highlights:Having to absorb a 10 percent cut in FY 2008-09 would mean a reduction of $40.1 million, resulting in the loss of 556 positions and requiring 23 days of furlough for all courts. The number of jobs lost would be “staggering,” because 87 percent of the court system’s budget goes to salaries, and 53 percent of salary dollars goes to pay constitutional officers. The cuts to the rest of the budget would actually result in an 18.5 percent reduction.For the Supreme Court, a 10 percent cut would mean the loss of 12 positions and require 23 furlough days, which would result in case delays, including a significant impact on the timely disposition of death penalty cases; decreased quality of legal research; and the inability to perform basic maintenance, pay utility bills, or provide required levels of security.The impact on the district courts of appeal would be the loss of 52 positions and 23 furlough days, resulting in a decline in disposition rates; decreased quality of legal research; and the inability to perform basic maintenance, pay utility bills, or provide required levels of security.The Office of the State Courts Administrator would have to eliminate 13 positions, shut down for 23 days, which would result in inadequate technical support; significant delays in payment of bills; failure to keep courts in compliance with state and federal laws; and an inability to maintain accurate records for workload.Eliminating 10 percent of the trial courts’ budget would mean the loss of 478 positions and 23 furlough days, resulting in the court having to prioritize cases where there is a risk of imminent danger of physical injury or death. All civil matters could be suspended entirely.For the criminal division, the courts would prioritize domestic violence injunctions and first appearances. Habitual felons could be released on bond if there is not time to determine the defendants’ status. Felons could be released due to speedy trial violations, and misdemeanors could be dismissed due to absence of judicial resources.The probate division would be forced to prioritize emergency guardianship matters, involuntary commitment proceedings, and cases involving medical treatment decisions. Other probate cases would be delayed.In the family division, cases with critical time frames or public safety issues would be heard first, including shelter hearings, detention hearings, and domestic violence injunctions. Dissolutions, child support, and repeat violence would be delayed, and recent gains and improvements in the dependency arena may be reversed.Quince told lawmakers the Legislature budgeted $112 million four years ago to fulfill the will of voters and implement the constitutional requirement of budgetary unification of the court system. Some 1,200 positions were shifted from county funding to state funding to better ensure equal justice from one end of Florida to another. Now, the branch is facing cutting almost as many positions, a reduction in workforce but not in workload.In fact, Quince pointed out, the work of the trial courts continues to grow, with 4.5 million cases filed last year, up 12 percent from two years ago.The increases from FY 2005-06 to 2007-08 include:• Capital murders increased by 24 percent.• Robberies increased by 45 percent.• Burglaries increased by 26 percent.• County ordinances cases increased by 29 percent.• Small claim cases increased by 42 percent.• Civil cases up to $15,000 increased by 40 percent.• Contract and indebtedness cases increased by 50 percent.• Condominium cases increased by 435 percent.•Real property/mortgage foreclosure increased by 396 percent.center_img Quince briefs legislators on the impact of budget cutslast_img read more

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