Upcoming furloughs concern Douglas County judge

Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild, pictured here in a 2009 file photo, is concerned about upcoming court closures due to state budget problems.

Extra court closures in coming weeks are problematic and inappropriate, according to Chief Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild.

“It’s certainly better than having weeks off at a time, but it’s going to cause us trouble,” he said.

Late Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court issued an order requiring all state courts to shut down for four Fridays in April and May because of state budget problems. All court staff, including 38 workers in Douglas County, will be required to take unpaid leaves on April 9, 16 and 23, and May 7.

Fairchild said it will lead to a backlog of paperwork, missed court dates and general confusion. Jurors will have longer weekends, probation officers won’t be able to conduct surveillance and no one will be at the court to accept payments.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “The courts are a branch of government and a very important branch of government and that branch of government’s going to be shut down for four days and that’s pretty inexcusable.”

The courts have taken several steps to reduce the impact of the state’s severe economic situation:

• A hiring freeze went into effect in December 2008, leaving about 100 vacancies in courts across the state.

• Nearly 200 temporary employees were laid off and their positions eliminated, increasing the workload for other court employees.

• An emergency surcharge was placed on court filings last year.

• The court successfully applied for an $800,000 federal stimulus grant.

• Judges took a 5 percent pay cut through June.

With salaries making up 98 percent of the state court budget, the Kansas Supreme Court said the closures are now necessary because there’s little else to cut.

Judges will be at the courthouses to handle emergency matters during the planned court closures.