Bar News - December 19, 2008
State Budget Deficit-Cutters: Asking More from the Judicial Budget
By: Dan Wise
Last month, the NH Judicial Branch announced it was canceling one month in each of nine Superior Court locations. It is part of the judiciary’s response to an overall budget-cutting effort to avoid a deficit in the state budget in the current fiscal year.
The cancellations to be implemented are:
Belknap County - December 2008
Carroll County - February 2009
Cheshire County - February 2009
Grafton County - February 2009
Hillsborough-North - Service period of 2/13/09-3/13/09
Hillsborough-South - March 2009
Merrimack County - Service period of 2/23/09-3/23/09
Rockingham County - February 2009
Strafford County - April 2009
Trials that were to go forward during those periods will be rescheduled. The jury trial schedule remains unchanged in Sullivan and Coos Counties, where jury trials are currently held every other month.
The jury cancellations attracted widespread media attention, including front-page articles in several NH newspapers, and a mention in a New York Times article discussing economy moves in several state judicial systems.
At press time, NH Supreme Court Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. was in discussions with representatives of the executive and legislative branches regarding further cuts, as the state budget picture, along with the sagging economy, continues to look grim.
A seven-page letter from Chief Justice Broderick to Gov. Lynch, details the measures already taken, and proposes additional budget cuts along with assessments of their impact.
The letter mentions that at the present time:
- Six percent of the non-judicial workforce (36 positions of 614 permanent, full-time positions) are vacant;
- Seven judicial vacancies exist (12 percent of the full-time judiciary), including three in the superior court, three in the district court, and one in the probate court. The judicial branch is not asking for any of these positions to be filled before the start of the new fiscal year.
- Other reductions have been made in areas such as continuing legal education for judges, legal library expenditures, expenditures for the bureau of court facilities, and security screening equipment installations, to name a few;
- The vacancy on the NH Supreme Court to be created in February by the retirement of Associate Justice Richard Galway will not be filled right away, per request of the judicial branch. In addition, the Supreme Court justices remaining on the court will be providing fill-in service in the superior court. Both the vacancy and the trial court service by Supreme Court justices will slow the operation of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Broderick’s letter notes.