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Financing the Third Branch in Lean Times: Placing the Present Fiscal Crisis in Perspective

NCJ Number
Carl Baar; Daniel Hall; Caroline S. Cooper; Ernest Friesen; Marcus Reinkensmeyer
Date Published
March 2010
18 pages
Drawing on the judicial system's responses to previous fiscal crises while noting the current unprecedented fiscal challenges that courts have not previously faced, this report presents common principles and issues relevant to judicial system budget strategies.
The introduction assesses the characteristics of the courts' current fiscal challenges and notes the importance of maintaining the courts' essential functions. The report then outlines the principles that cannot be sacrificed or compromised even in times of fiscal crises. The courts' core functions are reviewed, followed by a discussion of the interdependence of court operations and workflow and the implications of this interdependence for court budgeting. A consideration of State versus local funding of courts concludes that although State funding for local courts offers some advantages, it is not one of the basic answers to the courts' current fiscal crisis. A section on court budget strategies addresses the development of a solid budget strategy and budget justifications, cutback budget strategies, the development of long-term relationships with budget agency staff, and the promotion of inter-branch cooperation. A section on "Structural Approaches to Meet Budget Deficits" contains examples that include closing courts a half day per week, holding vacant positions open, ordering five unpaid furlough days for judges and most employees, and instituting a pay cut for judges and higher paid court staff. The report's final section focuses on the importance of recognizing political realities in the development of budget strategies. It advises that the court system should establish and maintain a coherent strategy, use professionalism and evidence to gain necessary trust, mobilize the judicial voice, play a more active role in the budgetary process, gain value from the use of automation, and assess tradeoffs and immediate versus longer term consequences of potential changes. 24 references