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DECEMBER 24, 2017

CHIEF JUSTICE Minton to ask for pay increases for all elected court officials, including judges and circuit court clerks, as well as non-elected court employees...

Bevin's proposed 17 percent budget cut would affect asst. prosecutors, crime victims' advocates and other staff, equating to one in three employees at commonwealth's attorneys' offices...

The criminal justice system could be crippled if courts and those who work in them have to face significant budget cuts because of state belt-tightening, officials say.

Chief Justice John D. Minton will submit the judicial branch budget recommendation for the next biennium to the General Assembly on Jan. 16. Chief Justice John D. Minton will submit the judicial branch budget recommendation for the next biennium to the General Assembly on Jan. 16.

“The primary purpose of government is the protection of its people,” said Chris Cohron, commonwealth's attorney in Warren County and co-legislative chair of the Commonwealth's Attorney's Association. “If you don’t fund the criminal justice system adequately, we would be failing the citizens of the commonwealth at its most basic level. 

“The type of budget cut that’s being contemplated would devastate the criminal justice system.”

In September, Gov. Matt Bevin's administration sent a letter to many state agencies to cut spending 17 percent under their current budgets — which go through June — to offset an anticipated revenue shortfall this fiscal year and to pump up the state's reserve fund.

The letter from Budget Director John Chilton suggested the move may be a first step toward a fundamentally leaner state budget next fiscal year.

Bevin himself warned in October of a "brutally difficult budget session." Pension reform and possibly tax reform will be on the table for the legislature as well. 

The governor's request for cuts followed a 9 percent cut that was part of the state's 2016-2018 budget as well as other cuts made since the Great Recession in 2008. 

Prosecutors raised their concerns about the impact of the proposed 17 percent budget cuts at a joint House-Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in September, saying staffing cuts would cripple offices. 

Because the salaries of elected officials can't be reduced mid-term, any cuts would affect assistant prosecutors, crime victims' advocates and other staff, equating to one in three employees at commonwealth's attorneys' offices, Cohron estimated in September. 

Cohron, whose association represents 57 commonwealth's attorneys across the state, added that some offices could be forced to close by March 1. 

In an interview this month, he said those potential impacts have worsened because the original estimates were based off an Oct. 1 start date.

Less staff would mean cases linger in the system at a cost to jails, defendants and potentially public safety. 

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, heard those pleas in September and said he hopes prosecutors, as well as public defenders — whose budget falls under the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet — are spared from cuts. 

“They present a very difficult situation,” he said. 

Both Cohron and Westerfield noted budget cuts affect prosecutors and public defenders differently than some other agencies.

“When they experience a cut, it’s felt by the people,” Westerfield said in an interview. “They can’t just buy fewer Post-it notes and copy paper.”

The court system itself is also facing potential cuts, though Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman Leigh Anne Hiatt declined to comment on what effects they could have. 

Hiatt did say the judicial branch did not reply to the governor's request for budget cuts in the current year.

The Administrative Office of the Courts is the operational branch of the state's court system, which employs more than 3,800 employees, including judges and circuit court clerks. 

Hiatt said Chief Justice John D. Minton will submit the judicial branch budget recommendation for the next biennium to the General Assembly on Jan. 16. 

Lawrence Circuit Clerk Jodi Parsley and her staff will get raises if Chief Justice Judge John Minton's budget passes through the legislature.Lawrence Circuit Clerk Jodi Parsley and her staff will get raises if Chief Justice Judge John Minton's budget passes through the legislature.

 

Hiatt said Minton plans to ask for pay increases for all elected court officials, including judges and circuit court clerks, as well as non-elected court employees. She also said the courts will look to the legislature to continue funding treatment courts for veterans in Fayette and Hardin counties and the Hardin County Mental Health Court, which previously were supported with federal grants. 

Part of that budget request includes five construction and renovation projects in Bath, Butler, Crittenden, Jessamine and Jefferson counties. 

Cohron said prosecutors should be spared from budget cuts. 

“We don’t have any notches on our belt left to tighten,” he said. “We’ve gone through this exercise so many times in the last decade, there’s nothing left to cut.”

By Matthew Glowicki
Louisville Courier-Journal

 

Comments  

+5 #3 Laughable 2017-12-26 16:15
The answer to budget cuts is always pay raises and then increase taxes. The justice system will not be devastated, but will have to work with less resources. NO PAY RAISES that's how we got here already!
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+1 #2 voter 2017-12-25 05:14
Her family included
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-2 #1 good book 2017-12-24 22:27
just wait when Trumps tax cuts and his budget cuts kick in there will be even less money going back to the states same thing happened under Reagan in the 80s
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