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Bar News - July 17, 2009

Budget Update: Some Bright Spots in Tough Times


Cheshire County Courthouse in Keene.

Hillsborough County Courthouse in Manchester.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr., sounds relieved when he talks about the status of the judicial branch after an extremely tough state budget process.

"Given that we have just gone through a budget process of unprecedented difficulty, I think the courts were treated very fairly," said Broderick. "I am very grateful to the Governor and to the Legislature, and I have communicated that."

The highlights for the courts include:
  • Full funding of salaries for all seven full-time judicial vacancies – 3 superior court, 3 district court, and probate court. Once the three appointments are made to the superior court, it will return to its statutory strength of 22 judges.
  • While there is very little funding for per diem payments for senior judges hearing cases in the superior court, or for part-time justices in the district courts or family division, unused salary for vacant judicial positions while judicial appointments are in process can be used for per-diem payments.
  • No more cutbacks in administrative staff. The budget calls for holding administrative vacancies to around the current level of nearly 60 positions, slightly under 10 percent of the judicial branch workforce.
  • Dedicated technology fund. A new fund, expected to raise $1.8 million a year from surcharges on filing fees, will provide a dedicated source of funding for technology maintenance and replacement. Broderick cautions that this will not fund new initiatives, but a predictable funding source will enable better, more efficient technology planning.
  • Capital budget includes $19 million to remove asbestos and entirely renovate the Hillsborough North Superior Court building in Manchester; also included are changes to the Manchester District Court building on Amherst Street to accommodate a Family Division site. The closure of the Hillsborough North building will take place in December 2009 or January 2010.
  • Court’s efforts to consolidate district court sites encountered opposition. Instead of eight sites being closed, New London District Court is the only court scheduled to be closed this year. However; only one more year of funding is provided for district court facilities in Claremont, Colebrook, and Milford courts – their eventual consolidations are to be the focus of a legislative study committee.
  • Keene courts are also a subject of study. The court has issued a request for a proposal to provide 22,000 square feet of space in Keene for a court facility to house the Superior and Probate courts of Cheshire County (now in the historic Cheshire courthouse) and the Keene District Court, now in the Keene City Hall. The City Hall location is deemed unsafe and lacking confidentiality, according to authorities.
  • Capital budget also includes $450,000 for a development of a comprehensive master plan regarding judicial facilities.
Chief Justice Broderick said that the judicial branch budget will become more difficult in the second year of the biennial cycle, due to the anticipated lack of per-diem judge funding and other budget cutbacks which will affect the system more in the second year than the first.

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