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Archive for Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Douglas County Chief Judge says it’s likely 12 days of furloughs will be needed next year for court employees

Cuts needed because of legislative mistake leading to budget shortfall

State budget cuts may force courts to close for a few days during the year. The closings would help the state save money by not paying the employees.

November 25, 2009

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Courts throughout the state will likely be forced to shut down for a dozen days next year, after the governor partially reneged on a promise to help fix a legislative error.

“At this point, it looks like it’s inevitable,” said Robert Fairchild, chief Douglas County District Court judge.

Fairchild said the situation, which would force 1,399 non-judicial court employees in the state to take 12 days off without pay, is already creating morale problems for the 38 who work in Douglas County.

“It’s obviously a disaster,” Fairchild said on Wednesday. “You can imagine the effect that it’d have on your household if you were told, ‘Woops, you have a job but you can’t work and won’t get paid for one day every two weeks.’”

Balancing budgets

As part of a wider effort to balance the state budget this week, Gov. Mark Parkinson said he would only ask lawmakers, when they reconvene in January, to restore $5 million in funding cuts they mistakenly made to the 2010 general fund budget last spring. The governor initially planned to advocate for a full $8 million.

Budget cuts could delay DNA testing

The budget cuts outlined by the governor on Monday have far-reaching effects in the court system and other judicial entities in Kansas.

Among them, Attorney General Steve Six said the cuts would compound the challenges faced by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s DNA database, which has a backlog of more than 38,000 DNA samples.

While no cases in Douglas County have been backlogged, District Attorney Charles Branson said he expected the cuts would increase the turnaround time for DNA testing and could cause additional delays in cases relying on the tests.

The Legislature trimmed the judicial branch budget, under the assumption the funds could be made up through surcharges on docket fees, without realizing the fees were capped by other legislation, court officials said.

“The governor approached developing his budget plan with several criteria, including a notion that every area of state government would have to share in the solution to our revenue shortfall,” said Beth Martino, Parkinson’s spokeswoman. “With that in mind, the recommendation for the judicial branch was reduced, along with the budgets of dozens of other state agencies.”

Robert Davis, Kansas Supreme Court chief justice, said the $3 million hole left by the governor will translate into 12 days of furlough for court workers. If the legislature does not reverse its error, six weeks of furlough could be ordered, which court officials said would cause disastrous problems for the state’s judicial system.

“Obviously we’re worried about the employees, but our main concern is making sure we can get our job done,” Fairchild said. “None of the paperwork will get processed, we won’t be able to collect money, we won’t have court reporters, we won’t have administrative assistants.”

Cost-cutting steps

The state’s court system has already taken cost-cutting measures, including a hiring freeze and the elimination of temporary hours. In Douglas County, the court clerk’s office has been closed during lunch hours to pick up some slack.

Salaries and employee benefits consume 98 percent of the court system’s $97 million appropriation of state tax dollars.

Davis said the changes have increased workloads and added stress to the state’s non-judicial court workers, which include court clerks, administrators and court reporters.

“This is just going to make things that much worse,” Fairchild said of the looming furlough situation. He said all chief district judges in the state would meet Dec. 11, when they should learn more and discuss how to respond.

It’s possible lawmakers will ignore the governor’s request when they reconvene in January and fully restore funding for the judicial system, as they grapple with a host of budget issue.

At a recent legislative forum at the Kansas Bar Association, legislators from both sides of the aisle said they were committed to making the changes needed to cover the judiciary shortfall when the 2010 session starts.

“Everyone is steadfast we keep our courthouses open,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, also said he was committed to remedying the situation.

Scott Rothschild and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Comments

Steve Jacob 5 years, 1 month ago

I said this before, 12 day furlough sucks, but it's better then a 5% pay cut. You can get off the furlough must faster then getting the 5% back.

wastewatcher 5 years, 1 month ago

When will the court leaders- judges- join the real world and show some leadership? None of us like the situation we find ourselves in, but there are many ways to deal with it. Why not give the workers a chance to deal with it, I'm sure they would come up with better solutions than simply whinig on the way to the bank with their fat checks like the judges do. Try being unemployed, it is a lot worse than a day off each month. Judges wake up, your constant whining is borrrring.

wastewatcher 5 years, 1 month ago

When will the court leaders- judges- join the real world and show some leadership? None of us like the situation we find ourselves in, but there are many ways to deaL with it. Why not give the workers a chance to deal with it, I'm sure they would come up with better solutions than simply whinig on the way to the bank with their fat checks like the judges do. Try being unemployed, it is a lot worse than a day off each month. Judges wake up, your constant whining is borrrring.

Jonathan Becker 5 years, 1 month ago

How many complaints are we going to hear from the posters who think this is a good thing, when the LJW runs a headline like this: "Murderer set free on speedy trial grounds." Often trials are held in the last ten days before the speedy trial deadline. Take away those ten days and you have constitutional crunch time. Will we hear from these posters that 'we don't need no stinkin' speedy trial"?

Maracas 5 years, 1 month ago

The court will be backlogged when employees return from the furlough(s). Looking forward to resolution of your civil or domestic case? Sorry the court is closed, and when it returns it will be dealing with backlogged criminal matters and people being held who couldn't be seen while the court was closed. Need a protection from abuse or stalking? Sorry, court is closed. Good luck and don't get hurt too badly.

Court closings affect more than just the rank and file employees. They affect everyone, except for judges who get paid regardless whether the court is open or closed. Yep, the judges can sit around and enjoy their time off and their pocketbooks are not affected one bit.

bluerain 5 years, 1 month ago

12 days without pay is nothing compared what others are experiencing. If city employees are gripping, I think it is unwarranted and selfish.

bluerain 5 years, 1 month ago

there are different stratigies that can be used for reducing employee hours which can prevent or reducing backlogging

somebodynew 5 years, 1 month ago

What some of you aren't understanding is that these people affected are the rank and file (read lowest paid) people who do all of the actual work. And a day off w/o pay pretty much equals a 5% pay cut, for the already lowest paid people there. Now, granted it is better than being laid off.

Obviously some of the posters here have never dealt with the courts. They can't get the job done with extra days off - H*ll they can't get it done now working all the hours they are allowed. And bluerain - get a clue, or read the article - this has nothing to do with city employees. This is district court people.

kugrad2003 5 years, 1 month ago

bluerain - Court employees are not city employees, they get paid by the state. Keep in mind that the 12 days are not set in stone. There is still the possibility that more furlough days will be required.

Yes, for the employees it is about a loss in pay, but please look at the bigger picture. If you need help from the courts, say for a protection order, what will you do during those furlough days? What if you've been arrested and are sitting in jail and can't be seen because the courts are closed? Think about those scenarios too before you jump on the employees for being worried about the furloughs.

scott3460 5 years, 1 month ago

"You are getting your payback now for voting for the Obamanation of a President we are all enjoying, all the way to the bread line."

This statement, of course, is entirely false. This situation is the direct result of the failure of state politicians to deliver the services called for by the payment of our taxes. 10 or 20 years ago the level of service provided by the state government was far superior to that today. Which citizens benefited most from the tax cutting of the last 20 years? And which citizens suffer when the government shortchanges them on governmental services? They are different sets of folks and until the vast majority of the state's population wakes up and elects competent politicians who will serve the interests of the middle class (as opposed to the rich and corporate interests) we can only expect the current crop of politicians to push the harm further.

kugrad2003 5 years ago

barrypenders - I'm not sure what teachers you know, but in many districts they do have the option to get paid each month during the summer.

notajayhawk 5 years ago

scott3460 (Anonymous) says…

"And which citizens suffer when the government shortchanges them on governmental services?"

The ones who soak up the most. And whine that those who don't use those services aren't contributing enough.

scott3460 5 years ago

"The ones who soak up the most. And whine that those who don't use those services aren't contributing enough."

And who makes the greatest use of the court system that we tax payers so generously supply in order to maintain their wealth and power? And who complains that those who don't use the system are not contributing enough?

Should not the wealthier person, who makes far greater use of the governmental tools afforded to maintain our society, pay a greater share of the burden?

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