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Adequate, Stable, Equitable, and Responsible Trial Court Funding: Reframing the State vs. Local Debate

NCJ Number
Alan Carlson; Kate Harrison; John K. Hudzik
Date Published
April 2008
155 pages
This report presents case studies of how three States fund their trial courts and their funding mechanisms’ impacts on the adequacy and stability of funding, the equity of funding across trial courts in a State, and accountability for the fiscal management of trial courts.
Two of the States (Florida and New Jersey) had recently shifted to primary State funding, and the trial courts in the third State (Washington State) were primarily locally funded. The study concluded that there was no clear overall advantage to either primary State funding or primary local funding based on the criteria of adequacy, stability, equity, and accountability: however, locally funded courts often complained about insufficient funding, but greater State funding apparently did not produce significantly more funding. Primary State funding provided an opportunity to equalize funding across trial courts. The experiences of the two States with primary State funding suggest that judiciaries under this funding mechanism developed more of a statewide perspective of the operation of the judiciary and the services it provided. Primary State funding also heightened the visibility of spending on the judiciary and encouraged greater accountability. Neither State nor local revenue sources apparently provided more stable or predictable funding for courts. More complete information about actual expenditures did not necessarily mean that spending was more cost-effective, was used for the most critical needs, or provided a higher quality of justice. Neither mechanism of primary court funding necessarily produced better management. Data sources included information collected through site visits, interviews, focus groups, and review of laws and reports. Information was obtained from representatives of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches at the State and local levels in each State. 4 tables, 26 references, and appended research design and methodology, demographic characteristics of the three States, and a discussion chart for the context of State trial court functions for funding in Washington State