around the bar
December 2, 2011

State Courts Continue to Struggle for Resources to Serve the Public

By Rabiah Alicia Burks
_ News Service

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The nationwide struggle to provide adequate access to court services continues, as states contend with cuts to already underfunded judicial budgets, say the results of a new survey released on Nov. 29.

The budget survey, conducted by the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., shows that 42 states had their funding reduced. To cope with budgetary constraints, 39 states are not filling clerk vacancies, 34 states have laid off staff, and 23 states have reduced court hours.

“These statistics add new urgency to the crisis in our state courts,” said Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, president of the _.  “People should never have to jump over budgetary hurdles to reach the courtroom, and yet in most states that’s exactly what is happening.  If our legal system isn’t accessible, then it can’t be just and it won’t be fair.”

According to the survey, the budget cuts have had an affect on processing civil cases, which include cases such as child custody, divorce and foreclosure.

“The survey released earlier this week clearly demonstrates—from a national perspective—that state courts are being required to take drastic measures to compensate for very limited funding,” said Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts. “If this situation continues, the high quality of service that the public has come to expect from state courts will begin to deteriorate.  In some jurisdictions, the public may already be feeling a decline in the services provided.”

The ABA’s Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System is currently tackling the issue of court underfunding.

“The task force will continue to work with judges, bar associations and other stakeholders to call attention to this crisis and share strategies for innovation and efficiency,” Robinson said.  “Even in times of extreme economic hardship, our courts need adequate financial support and essential resources to fulfill their constitutional responsibility.”

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