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first_img Anstead: Courts are dealing now with budget shortfalls Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead told the Board of Governors that the judicial system is “heading down the home stretch” in its quest to secure adequate funding for the courts as the legislature prepares to carry out Revision 7 to Art. V this spring.Anstead implored board members at their January 30 board meeting in Tallahassee to contact their chief judges when they return home and volunteer their services to help educate their local legislative delegations to support full funding of the courts and to speak to local county commissions about the need to continue to fund local court initiatives. It’s the same message the chief justice has been traveling the state to spread. (See story, page 1).But while what happens in the legislature this year will have a profound effect on what the court system will look like in the years to come, Anstead also told the board that this past year the courts have been operating “more or less in a state of crisis, financially.”Last year, Anstead said, the trial courts had to absorb an approximate 5 percent budget cut and the Office of the State Courts Administrator took a 10 percent cut and lost 17 employees. A move he called “distressing,” considering OSCA’s responsibilities will soon be increasing by having to supervise and administer a much larger budget due to the Revision 7 funding shift.“During the course of the budget year. our State Courts Administrator’s Office calculates that we had over a $5 million shortfall in the operations of the court system,” Anstead said. “In other words, the dollars that were budgeted are proving insufficient for the needs out there.”As examples, Anstead said, some circuits have run out of money to pay senior judges and almost all circuits have run out of money to pay jurors. In Palm Beach County, the chief judge “was actually talking about having to give jurors vouchers or IOUs” until the court could obtain a supplemental appropriation or find some other funds, he said.“I think that is probably as close as you can get to illustrating how serious it is,” Anstead said. “We have a state court system that can’t pay our citizen jurors.”Chief Justice Anstead said the courts have been scrambling to find other funds to cover the shortfalls, including transferring money from the guardian ad litem judicial accounts to other areas.The legislature and the governor have indicated that they might consider supplemental funding, Anstead said, but won’t until the courts have “looked in every nook and cranny” for other sources of funds.“So I’m afraid I have to tell you the last year has not been a good one for the court system,” Anstead said. “On the other hand, we recognize that in times of economic stress that all three branches of state government have to absorb some of the hits, so we have absorbed those losses and setbacks with that kind of attitude.”Assistant State Courts Administrator Blan Teagle provided the board with some details. He noted the courts have estimated they need $170.6 million to carry out Revision 7, while the governor’s budget has recommended $102 million. While some of the difference may be made up by counties, that gap leaves the courts in jeopardy, he said, and the area particularly at risk is civil cases in the poorer counties.That’s because although civil cases are important, the courts have to give priority to criminal, family, and juvenile court issues.“What will probably be slowed down the most if we cannot close this gap is civil trials. That is where we will see significant delays if we cannot achieve some kind of equity for the have- and the have-not counties,” Teagle said. “We believe that civil trials and civil dockets are extremely important. We recognize that civil courts have a direct role in keeping the economic engine running. It is about having some predictability for the way economic issues and economic disputes will be resolved.” February 15, 2004 Regular Newscenter_img Anstead: Courts are dealing now with budget shortfallslast_img read more