Editorial: Budget Cuts Are Damaging Our Court System

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The News and Observer has an editorial slamming the recent cuts to the NC court system that have severely hobbled it's ability to work efficiently. They detail $80M in cuts to the court system in just the last 6 years, which has resulted in a 10% reduction in the total workforce. From the editorial,

No nation in history has been more strongly committed to the protection of individual rights than the United States, yet across the nation rendering justice is being undermined by an erosion of funding for the courts. The results are a growing backlog of cases, overwhelmed judges, rising court fees, a shortage of legal counsel for indigent people and longer jail stays for the accused.

Funding for the courts has long been a low priority for state governments, and the purse strings tightened further as states wrestled with budget shortfalls during the Great Recession and the slow recovery.

Now most states are restoring or increasing court funding, but North Carolina is allowing the crunch to grow more severe. The state’s population increase continues to add to the courts’ caseloads, but the state legislature continues to cut funding.

Durham’s Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey is one of many judges and lawyers sounding an alarm about the legislature’s willingness to let justice proceed with less and less. “It’s a travesty,” she said.

Morey was speaking as a member of the Durham Crime Cabinet, an advocacy group of local government and justice-system officials as well as private citizens with interest in crime and its prevention. The group is offering a wish list for more judicial funding when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

In a report from The News & Observer’s Jim Wise, Morey outlined the scale of the lost funding. The legislature cut $7.5 million in its last session and $80 million over the last six years. The court system’s $464 million budget is 2.2 percent of the state budget compared with past levels of about 3 percent. Among the states, North Carolina is third from the bottom in court funding as a percentage of the state budget.

Statewide, courts have lost more than 600 full-time positions, or 10 percent of their workforce. In Durham, that has meant fewer people to translate for Spanish-speaking defendants and the loss of a victims advocate. Other jobs are being left unfilled so there’s enough money for jurors’ fees.

 

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