House completes FY13 budget debate, restores $6 million for courts

Issue May 2012 By Lee Ann Constantine

The House budget funds the Trial Courts at $560 million for 2013, $8 million below Gov. Deval Patrick's recommendation. Additional funding is essential to address critical operating needs of the court system. The Massachusetts Bar Association will continue to advocate for an adequately funded justice system throughout the budget process.

The court system is serving the approximately 42,000 people who enter courthouses each day with over 1,300 fewer court personnel since July of 2007. Court backlogs are increasing; many clerks and registers have had to reduce public hours of operation, except for emergencies; and there is an insufficient number of court officers, which increases security risks and causes disruptions and delays.

The House also approved an additional $1 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, bringing its fiscal 2013 funding to $12 million. As lawyers know, these difficult economic times have placed an extraordinary burden on legal service providers. An unprecedented number of citizens are in need of services, but revenue from IOLTA income is down 78 percent over the past four years.

The Committee for Public Counsel Services was funded at $162.2 million by the House Ways and Means Committee. The governor's proposal contained $164.5 million in funding and the expansion to a 50 percent public defender to 50 percent assigned private counsel ratio in CPCS cases. The House proposal did not contain any further expansion of the public defender-to-assigned private counsel ratio.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will release its budget proposal in May, when it will be debated by the full Senate. Each branch will then appoint three members to a joint conference committee to reconcile the two budgets. The conference committee will produce one final conference budget to be sent to both branches for an up-or-down vote without further debate. The governor may approve the budget in part by making a number of vetoes to the document. Fiscal 2013 begins on July 1, 2012.