Amid uncertain budget times for Kansas courts, it appears Douglas County will again step forward and fund the judge pro tem position in 2010.
“The judges have been committed to try to save (in) other places because we feel like we have to have that position,” Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild said.
The Kansas Supreme Court had recommended the Legislature fund a magistrate judge for Douglas County beginning in the 2010 fiscal year, but legislators did not fund new judicial positions because of the state’s revenue shortfall.
County commissioners heard from Fairchild on Tuesday morning about the county-funded portion of the court’s operating budget. Most district court employees are state funded, while some positions and other support services and supplies come from the county’s budget.
Last year the county funded the judge pro tem position to help handle criminal first appearances and traffic, small claims and juvenile cases. James George is the current judge pro tem.
Fairchild and Court Administrator Linda Koester-Vogelsang fit $85,080 for the pro tem position and support services into their $974,370 2010 county budget request — down from $975,000 in 2009.
County leaders also said Tuesday they would come up with a plan to try to mitigate any potential effects of a district court employee furlough in January, if legislators do not fix a budget mistake.
After the 2009 session ended, Kansas Chief Justice Robert Davis said the Legislature cut the judicial branch by $11 million under the assumption that funds could be made up through docket fee surcharges. However, the surcharge was capped at $10 per fee in other legislation.
Legislators have said they aim to fix the mistake during the new session in January 2010. Otherwise, Davis has said the court system would be forced to furlough 1,589 nonjudicial employees for one week per month from January to June next year.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug told commissioners he would meet with Fairchild to develop an emergency plan. However, the county couldn’t afford to cover all state expenses.
“It has broad-reaching effects for anybody who touches the court system,” Fairchild said. “Financially and service-wise, it would be just a disaster.”