Courts Face Budget Cuts; Public Defenders Hard Hit


The budget emergency facing state governments has produced an alliance of advocates – from business leaders to public defenders and chief judges – who are urging state lawmakers not to slash funding for the courts, reports They warn that the poor could go without lawyers. Businesses could take a financial hit. Court employees could be laid off by the hundreds, leading to the slower delivery of justice. At least 25 state court systems face budget shortfalls this fiscal year, says the National Center for State Courts. New Hampshire is suspending jury trials for a month to save an estimated $73,000.

Utah's chief justice warned that every one of the state's 1,000 court employees could be furloughed for 26 days starting this month. “Our state courts are in crisis,” Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall told the American Bar Association on Monday. In Kentucky, state-funded public defenders say the justice system could “unravel” unless legislators appropriate more money to public attorneys for the current fiscal year. Public defender's offices elsewhere, including statewide systems in Minnesota and Rhode Island and county-funded systems in Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, Tennessee, have cut back on their services, says the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. Drug court professionals worry that state funding will be slashed for the courts, which provide alternatives to incarceration for low-risk drug offenders.

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