Lawyers Journal

Courts receive $20 million more

The Trial Court Department will receive $20 million in additional funding for fiscal 2012 after Gov. Deval Patrick signed a $480 million supplemental budget appropriation Oct. 27.

"The supplemental funding for the Trial Court is desperately needed, as the judicial branch continues to grapple with the effects of sustained budget cuts and enormous staff reductions over the past few years," said Martin W. Healy, the chief legal counsel and chief operating officer for the Massachusetts Bar Association.

The MBA considers adequate court funding a priority and continues to be a strong advocate for the courts.
The supplemental budget includes $350 million for the state's "rainy day" reserve account and $65 million in local aid for cities and towns. Specifically, the courts will receive $12 million in direct funds and $8 million in retained revenue from fee collections.

When the state's fiscal 2012 budget was signed by Patrick in July, judicial leaders decried the Trial Court's $519.9 million budget - $24.2 million lower than last year's and down from $605 million in fiscal 2009 - saying it would require "devastating" layoffs and courthouse closings that would jeopardize "the quality of justice in our courts."

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland thanked Patrick for approving the additional funds in an Oct. 27 letter while noting that the courts are still under severe stress after yearly budget reductions.

"While this still leaves our Trial Court in dire fiscal straits," Ireland wrote, "it alleviates a 'worst case scenario' that we had 
anticipated … ."

Funding for the courts has been reduced nearly 16 percent, or $96 million, since the beginning of fiscal 2009. A hiring freeze - which was enacted in response to the recession - and attrition have accounted for the loss of more than 1,100 positions since 2008.

After the budget was approved in July, the SJC asked Patrick not to appoint any new judges or clerk magistrates this fiscal year because every appointment would require laying off three other court employees. In response to the additional $20 million, Ireland wrote in the Oct. 27 letter that the SJC was withdrawing its request for a moratorium on appointments, and praised Patrick and his administration for their 
cooperation.

"We also appreciate the willingness by you and your Legal Counsel to communicate with the judiciary so that we could work together to prioritize your appointments to best assist those courts in greatest need of judges and clerk magistrates," Ireland wrote.

Judicial leaders had also noted in July that the $519.9 million budget was actually lower because it included unobtainable projections for revenue collection through court fees. The supplemental budget's additional $8 million in retained revenue will help address that concern.

The supplemental budget also contains an outside section, which mandates that any proposed court closures or reductions in sessions must be approved by the soon-to-be appointed Trial Court administrator and submitted to the Legislature 90 days before they 
take effect.

Acting on recommendations of the court-appointed Court Relocation Committee, Mulligan filed a statutorily required report on court relocations with the Legislature on Aug. 10, which can be found at www.mass.gov/courts/court-relocations-report-to-
legislature.html.

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