State courts would have to close for 3 weeks under proposed budget, chief justice warns
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice John Minton Jr. delivered what he called a “very clear and sober warning” to legislators Tuesday morning, saying major programs could be shuttered and court employees furloughed for weeks if the courts aren't exempt from proposed cuts.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Kentucky's courts would have to close for about three weeks if Gov. Matt Bevin's proposed budget becomes law, Chief Justice John Minton Jr. told legislators Tuesday.
Minton delivered what he called a “very clear and sober warning” to legislators Tuesday morning, saying major programs could be shuttered and court employees furloughed for weeks if the courts aren't exempt from the cuts.
Minton said the courts would have to shut down for “approximately three weeks” to handle the 4.5 percent cut proposed for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Minton said the courts would be unable to meet payroll obligations.
Bevin has proposed 9 percent cuts in each of the next two fiscal years.
In a statement, Bevin responded by saying that shutting down the courts is "neither necessary, nor an appropriate response to a 9% cut. Kentucky has serious financial issues to deal with, and the solution will come as a result of budgetary sacrifice on the part of many. To imply otherwise is a disservice to the taxpayers of Kentucky and disregards the very real legal, moral and financial obligation to pay our debts."
In 2012, courts across the state shut down for three days as court employees were given furloughs as a way to cope with a slashed budget.
Trials were put on hold, attorneys couldn’t file motions and citizens couldn’t pay fines or court costs.
Chief Jefferson District Court Judge David Holton said closing the courts would "result in utter chaos, especially in an urban area like Louisville."
Holton said the jail population would explode, as some defendants would be stuck in jail.
"The streets of the city, I fear, would be in great turmoil without the ability of the courts to hear the cases," he said. "I think public safety would suffer greatly."
Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine also said closing the courts would be detrimental for all parties.
"For the chief justice to suggest that shows it is a very serious situation," Wine said. "Every day is precious and to lose three weeks is going to be a tremendous burden on judges and the public."
And state Public Advocate Ed Monahan said "for the system to have integrity, all parts of it - prosecutors, courts, public defenders, law enforcement - need adequate funding."
Minton also said other initiatives would be jeopardized be the “crippled court system, including possibly shutting drug courts across the state.
Closing drug court programs in Kentucky now, in the midst of the state’s drug and heroin epidemic, would “send the wrong message about our willingness to address the human aspect of this escalating problem,” Minton said, according to a copy of his remarks.
Minton asked legislators to exempt the judicial branch from the cuts.
Since 2008, Minton said, the judicial branch has suffered deep cuts and lost 10 percent of its non-elected workforce to layoffs and attrition.
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