Bar News - March 22, 2013
Early State Budget Boosts Court Resources
By: Dan Wise
More judges, continued funding for the NH e-Court Project, and restoration of funding for children in need of services and representation of indigent parents accused of neglect are highlights of the judicial branch budget as proposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.
It will be months before the fate of the two-year state budget is decided, but negotiations started off on a positive note for the court.
HB2, the bill accompanying the operating budget, which spells out major initiatives, calls for:
The capital budget calls for $3.5 million in continued funding for the e-Court initiative and $200,000 in expenses related to outfitting the Cheshire County courthouse, which is now under construction and slated for completion in January 2014. The governor also recommended $245,000 for a new roof for Concord Circuit Court, and $240,000 in repairs to the exterior walls of the Coos County Courthouse in Lancaster.
- lifting the budgetary limits on superior court judges, adding one each year to boost the total number to 20;
- partial restoration of the children in need of services (CHINS) program, for which funding was slashed in the last budget cycle;
- partial restoration of funding for counsel for indigent parents accused of abuse and neglect, an area left unfunded in the last budget cycle;
Also, the capital budget calls for $38 million to build a womenís prison, to replace the overcrowded facility over which the state is facing a lawsuit.
One surprise occurred early this month when a division of the NH House Finance Committee revived a proposal thought to have been killed off last year: eliminating the Hillsborough County Superior Court Southern Division in Nashua by consolidating it with the Northern Division in Manchester. The Judicial Branch had proposed that it would save an estimated $300,000 in salaries and other expenses by moving the Hillsborough County Superior Court entirely out of the Spring Street courthouse to allow the Circuit Court to take over the building. But vociferous opposition by the Nashua legal community, city officials, and the Bar Association, which joined in opposing the idea, led the Court to withdraw the proposal.
In a Nashua Telegraph interview following the House panelís favorable vote on the cost-cutting measure, Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis said the Court had not revived the idea and called the consolidation proposal "a dead issue."