Gutting Justice; the Irresponsible Cuts Facing Our Court System
The United States of America is known for justice. We have always had the best court systems on the planet; nowhere else in the world do the people have the direct representation and defense of the court system. Criminals and corporations from other nations come here to use our court systems and settle litigations. All of this might soon change. The American court systems are facing a crisis the country can ill afford to handle; court room budgets across the nation have been slashed, causing massive cutbacks as well as delays or sometimes total denials of justice. In this difficult time every government office needs to tighten their belt, the courts included; however, when the cuts become lacerations so extreme the system cannot function, it is time to call attention to the problem.
The court systems financial cuts are so overbearing that in the state of Georgia, alleged murderers are now walking the street again without having a trial. Maurice Gleaton and Antonio Clark were charged with the murder of Kenneth Kemp in 2005, and now have never been tried for their alleged crimes. The state high court in Georgia was forced to throw out the charges because of the violation of the right every citizen has to a fair and speedy trial. Because no trial was given, these alleged murderers now walk free. Now, another man in Georgia accused of murder is attempting to have his charges dropped for this same reason. It is shocking that such a thing could happen in America, but these types of problems are becoming more common every day. New York court rooms are now ordered to end all proceedings at 4:30 pm to ensure there is no overtime pay. When this did not work well enough the New York court system was forced to lay off 400 employees this past summer. In New Hampshire the courts have been forced to suspend all trials by jury for 30 days; this included 13 criminal trials and 36 civil cases. New Hampshire also had to close the courts for an entire year to all civil jury trials; these include small business suits, product liabilities, and injury cases. California was forced to take out a loan to continue functioning after their budget was cut $350 million in 18 months. The state has taken personnel cuts as high as 40%, and 23 court rooms in San Francisco have been closed during the last month. Those filing for divorce have been advised to settle their disputes outside of the court room. One court room in Ohio has been forced to stop taking cases because they have actually run out of paper. The American bar association reports that 26 states have delayed filling judgment seats after a judge retires or moves on. 31 have stopped filling judicial support positions, and 34 have stopped filling voids in clerks’ offices. 14 states have laid off entire court and judge staffs, and 14 have also been forced to reduce hours the courts are open or close altogether on certain days. 21 states have increased fees and penalties to try to compensate for these cuts.
The average state is facing 15% cuts in their court funding, where over 90% of funding is personnel. Courts do not take on projects which can just be cancelled in order to save money the way other departments do; cuts directly affect jobs and performance of the courts. 96% of litigation is heard in state courts, six of which are now open only 4 days per week. When one looks at the numbers for the Georgia court system it is easy to understand that they were left with no choice but to free alleged criminals. The state budget only allocates .89% of its funds to the court rooms, after taking a 25% cut in the past two years. Across the country, criminal trials are now waiting over a year to take place.
It makes sense to cut costs during these trying economic times, but when the problem is researched further one can see that cutting court funding could actually hurt the economy more than help it. To begin with, cutting court funding naturally means delaying cases; with criminal cases a delay means more pre-trial time in jail awaiting your hearing. Because our government presumes innocent until proven guilty we are most certainly detaining innocent people. That is not to say that many people accused of crimes do not actually commit them, but let us take for example the two men in Georgia who had their murder charges dropped after waiting five years for a trial: if it costs the state of Georgia $23,816.25 every year to keep these alleged criminals awaiting trial, it would mean the tax payers spent $238,162.50 to keep each man in jail for five years. Moreover, in tough economic times when people have less money to go around, they do not need the court costs and fees dramatically increased for their traffic violations, custody hearings, or any legal matter. This only further exacerbates the problem, taking more money from the very consumers who have to spend it in order to help economic recovery so the courts can be funded fully again. Furthermore, in a bad economy, especially our current one with foreclosures happening as frequently as they are, a court being unable to hear civil cases because of budget cuts also cannot hear foreclosure and bankruptcy cases. If these cases are not settled, neither party in the foreclosure can move on, stagnating the economy even further. Small businesses cannot hire a needed employee or two because they cannot get a court hearing to settle on the money a customer or creditor owes to them. This not only prevents job creation, but lowers the spending power of the public the same way charging higher fees will. Personal injury and other civil suit cases are facing the same impasse to settlement. If there is no settlement there will not be economic progress, this has been evidenced by the lack of consumer spending during these economically turbulent times.
Our nation’s court system is so important it cannot be overstated. The United States government was set up by our founding fathers to be a three branch government consisting of legislative, executive, and judicial; all three having equal and separate power. If one third of that system is underfunded, and rendered largely unfunctional because of it, our government is not functioning to its full purpose of creation. The court systems were so important the architects of our nation that the courts were established and maintained at the same time the continental congress could not afford to build roads, or even pay soldiers. We MUST have functioning court systems in our nation. The power of judicial review, whereby the courts can keep the legislators and bureaucrats from overreaching their duties, is necessary to maintain a balance of power in our nation. The courts are the means whereby citizens receive protection from the government. Our government was established to serve its people, but often has forgotten that it is what we want which ultimately matters. When laws are made we have the power to challenge their validity or constitutionality in the court system, this ensures our freedoms are never taken. Laws as important as voting rights for freed slaves and women, segregation, the draft, abortion, and as of next spring, the mandating health insurance have been decided in the courts. Now I understand that cases as important as these are being heard, and will not be delayed. However, the courts are created to protect citizens from government in even the smallest matters, if these small matters cannot be heard because of budget cuts, how long until the big matters are delayed also? Congress has not been representing the people they are elected to represent, the courts will always defend the people; both against other citizens, and when needed, their own government. For the rights of the people and the safety of the people the courts must function properly.
Court funding is so important that national subsidies ought to be given to pay for the courts to continue functioning. Of course courts need to take the cuts the same way every government agency needs to take cuts these financially stiff times. Certain cases do not need to be heard and can save the courts money such as divorce for irreconcilable differences, or any matter other than abuse or neglect. Civil cases not regarding injury, small businesses, or bankruptcy can be put on hold until the court has free time to hear them. However, criminal cases and these important types of civil cases cannot be delayed. In the sphere of the legal court room an old saying says that “justice delayed is justice denied,” this is certainly true in many cases, included in which are criminal cases for an innocent suspect, or injury cases in which someone must go months or years without being able to work, and must not have a settlement delayed because of the need to provide basic necessities. Courts can become more innovative, such as in Utah, where courts are now using audio recorder instead of written court minutes. Another idea is to have all paperwork done digitally rather than in print, and then scanned into a system. Courts can run more efficiently, but in these trying times where the courts are more important than ever the majority of government cuts need to come from elsewhere. The congressional salary is currently $174,000 per year, with a retirement pension worth close to $100,000 per year after serving only two terms. Being elected to congress used to be a public service, not a career. Amid all this, Congress is running up their travel expenses like never before. Bureaucracies are now larger than ever before in our countries. The defense department has a budget at the highest percentage of GDP in our history–$708 billion–larger than the rest of the world combined. National defense is drastically important, but we do not need more spending on defense as a percentage of GDP right now than we had the day President Truman dropped atomic bombs on Japan. For all the $1.18 Billion we tax payers shovel over to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) we were rewarded with highly risky and toxic bank bundling which imploded our economy and housing market. NASA has been given $17.8 billion in funding for a new telescope which will cost $8.8 billion to send into space. The United States is giving out tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid while we are in economic woes ourselves. Most of the nation also recognizes the need to reform entitlement to save some more money. These cuts must come from all around, everyone in every government department and agency needs to sit on their wallets; however, we must have a functioning court system. Our economy, our safety, our rights, liberty, and property depend on it; the biggest cuts must not come from out court systems. Above all, America stands for justice; if we change that, we lose the identity that made us America.
Posted on November 22, 2011, in Constitutional Law, Patriotslog Articles and tagged budget cuts, court system, death roe, Georgia, justice, justice system, taxes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.