Oregon has shut down its court system on Fridays to save money, perhaps the most drastic step taken by justice agencies around the nation that are suffering from funding shortages. The Associated Press reports that judges, district attorneys and public defenders are carrying extra burdens and some officials fear that public safety has declined.
In Texas, where lawmakers face a $1.8 billion shortfall, the chief justice has proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate two of the nine seats on the state Supreme Court. New York has had a hiring freeze in effect for 18 months, leaving 700 court jobs unfilled. In Colorado, a potential $800 million shortfall has triggered cuts that include furlough days for court employees, delayed starting dates for new judges and shorter courthouse hours.
California, facing a $10 billion budget deficit before July 1, has seen 29 courtrooms closed and 250 layoffs in Los Angeles County alone.
Among other agencies, the Oregon State Police closed one crime lab and laid off 85 of its 135 technicians. In Portland, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk says he may be forced to reduce charges against more than 3,000 people accused of nonviolent misdemeanors and property crimes so they do not require a defense attorney or possible jail time.
“I’d say it’s the worst fiscal crisis to confront the state judiciary in 50 years,” said Roger Warren of the National Center for State Courts.