Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is absolutely correct when he says the state’s judicial system is in danger. The Chief Justice made that very clear in a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley. He says that conditions will worsen if the Legislature approves a budget recommended by Gov. Bentley. Chief Justice Moore pointed out that the court system already is badly understaffed because of long-standing budget problems and that the proposed budget will mean more layoffs. The Chief Justice told the Associated Press: “We are basically being cut out of existence.” While that statement may sound harsh – and some may even say the Chief Justice is “crying wolf” – I believe it’s true.
A state General Fund budget has been proposed that would give the entire court system $100.3 million for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That’s down from $102.8 million for this fiscal year. In fact, the current budget is nearly $23 million less than the prior year’s budget.
The Alabama Constitution mandates that the judicial system shall receive “adequate and reasonable funding.” That is very clear and the Governor and Legislature are bound to honor this provision of the constitution. It will be a huge mistake for the Legislature to fail to properly fund the court system. Nobody can really dispute the fact that the proposed budget would cripple the system at every level. Circuit clerks across the state are already grossly short on personnel and are trying very hard to meet the ¬daily demands on their offices. To cut their budgets further will cause tremendous problems in every county. The burdens on circuit and district court judges caused by losing needed personnel can no longer be tolerated. These judicial officers must have needed staffing, including law clerks, in order to perform their duties.
It was pointed out that court system employees haven’t had a cost-of-living raise since 2008, and the system has cut 261 positions, mostly court clerks and juvenile probation officers. That leaves 1,818 employees on board. Chief Justice Moore told the Associated Press: “Our judges and judicial employees continue to make Herculean efforts to maintain the justice system with ever-decreasing funds and staff.”
Hopefully, Gov. Bentley and the legislative leaders will revisit the issue and decide to adequately fund the court system. If they refuse to do so, the people of Alabama will be the losers. It certainly appears that there is a duty to act under the constitution.
Source: Associated Press
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