Court Funding Crisis

We created this blog to provide timely and useful information about important legal issues. As a rule, we stay away from politics. This is one of those rare times when we will discuss something that you may consider political.  We do so because this issue is one that effects everyone who relies on the courts for justice. In fact, we believe the issue of fair court funding is NOT a political issue, but a Constitutional necessity.

Many of the state and federal courts in our great country face a serious funding crisis. This crisis manifests itself in different ways in different states and in different courts. For example, in San Diego, California, court reporters are only permitted to record proceedings for 30 minutes. After that time, they are required to unplug their steno machines and leave. If either party requires the proceedings to be recorded to preserve a record for appeal, they must hire a private court reporter to do so.

In Boston, Massachussetts, civil cases are delayed because the Constitution requires courts to give priority to criminal cases and there are not enough judges and court personnel to handle the civil cases promptly.

In Kansas, the law has been changed to allow a longer period of time before the judicial nominating commission is informed it needs to meet to recommend nominees to replace retiring judges. This allows the state to delay paying for a replacement judge, but can result in too few judges to hear cases promptly. We even have some courts that haven’t had sufficient money for copy paper.

There are many other examples throughout the country of real people suffering hardship because they can’t get their cases heard promptly. There are parents who go months without seeing their child because they can’t get a hearing on child custody issues. There are business owners who can’t collect lawful debts. There are personal injury victims who are out of work due to their injuries, but can’t get to court because there aren’t enough judges and court personnel to promptly hear the cases.

In most states, the court system costs less than 1% of the state’s annual budget. Rather than saving money, cuts to court funding cost our economy billions of dollars. A recent economic analysis showed that delayed justice costs our economy roughly $52.5 billion dollars in lost investment income annually! See, “ECONOMIC IMPACT OF REDUCED JUDICIARY FUNDING AND RESULTING DELAYS IN STATE CIVIL LITIGATION”, Nels Pearsall, Bo Shippen, and Roy Weinstein, March 2012, published by ERS Group, Micronomics. This economic loss occurs because litigants do not use money that is at risk or that is in dispute for purchases or investments until the litigation is completed.

So, what can we do about this problem? The American Bar Association’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, under the leadership of Section Chair Mike Drumke, has put together a Task Force on Fair Court Funding to reach the legislatures in all 50 states to work towards obtaining fair court funding nationwide. Rick Morefield of this firm and Dan Gourash of Seeley, Savidge, Ebert & Gourash are co-chairing that effort. We have a great deal of information that can equip you to talk with your state legislators and other persons of influence to correct this serious problem. Check out the TIPS Fair Court Funding Toolkit for more information. TIPS has also produced a brief Fair Court Funding Video that provides helpful insight into this crisis.

Please join with us in in helping to solve this very serious issue that affects clients, lawyers, courts, and our economy.