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Courts to close over budget bickering
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Justice may move a little slower in Kansas after the Kansas Supreme Court announced Monday dates for scheduled furloughs of court employees and the closing of Kansas courts, including Barton County District Court.
The statewide closings of all district and appellate courts, including the Clerk of the District Court Office, are set for April 13 and 27, May 11 and 25, and June 8. The unpaid furloughs affect 31 judicial districts and 1,500 employees.
The move is necessary because of the Legislature’s failure to approve a $1.4 million supplemental appropriation for the judicial branch that had been agreed to earlier by House and Senate negotiators, said Great Bend-based John Isern, district court administrator for 20th Judicial District. That funding, which had been promised by both houses, was held up due to an impasse over other unrelated issues included in the same appropriation measure.
“Things will get backed up and there will be some delays,” Isern said. On those dates, court won’t be in session, the public won’t have access to the courts and office personnel will get behind in processing cases.
“Business will be handled and will get done,” he said. But, it will just be slower.
In a letter Kansas Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss sent to key legislators in February, he advised them that action on the supplemental appropriation would be required no later than March 31 to avoid employee furloughs and court closures.
The need for a supplemental appropriation was made known to the Legislature in January when the judicial branch advised it had more than a $1 million shortfall in its current FY 2012 budget. Nuss said. The shortfall occurred because a portion of the judicial branch budget comes from a surcharge on case filings implemented by the Legislature, and case filings were down during the first half of the fiscal year. This drop in case filings caused a loss of revenue.
“The judicial branch does not have financial reserves to access” Nuss said. “Because for the past few years the legislature has specified that the court system must operate only with the bare minimum appropriation needed to keep our courts open, while maintaining at least 80 unfilled job vacancies from previous staff levels. Since almost all of the court budget is for salaries, we do not have the flexibility other governmental entities have to postpone other expenditures to manage cash flow.”
Hopefully, Nuss said, when the Legislature returns from its three and one-half week recess on April 25, they take immediate action to resolve this matter thereby eliminating the remaining furlough dates so the court “may return full-time to serving the citizens of Kansas.”
“Time will tell,” Isern said.
District court judges will still be on duty those days, however, to administer any emergency needs that might arise. These include time-sensitive criminal matters (such as warrants and first appearances), child in need of care actions, emergency protection from abuse and stalking orders, hearings pertaining to sexually violent predators, and proceedings concerning the mentally ill.
The 20th Judicial District includes Barton, Ellsworth, Rice, Russell and Stafford counties.
Similar furloughs took place in the spring of 2010, just as the state and national economy started to tank. The issue originated in 2009 when the legislators cut the court’s budget.