A press released was issued recently informing the citizens of Kentucky that courthouses will be closed statewide and all court services will be unavailable Monday, Aug. 6, as the Kentucky Judicial Branch shuts down for the first of three furlough days in 2012. This will be the first time since Kentucky’s modern court system was formed in 1976 that the Judicial Branch must close courthouse doors to help balance the budget.
Some in the Logan County Justice Center don’t buy the “balancing” act and say they feel cuts in other areas of the government could have taken care of the shortfalls instead of closing a very important part of the state.
Circuit Court Clerk Sherry Wilkins, who has been serving in the circuit office since 1976, says this is the first time the state has closed the courthouse doors. “There is really nothing we can do about it,” said Wilkins, wanting Logan’s citizens to know it wasn’t a local decision.
“Everything that has been done we have to accept and hope they know what they are doing. I just don’t want people to think we locally here had anything to do with it,” said Wilkins, who was elected into her position so she will not be required to take the furlough.
The furloughs will effect only non-elected court personnel, who will be off work without pay as part of the Judicial Branch’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Reduction Plan, according to the state news release.
The entire court system will be closed Monday, Aug. 6; Tuesday, Sept. 4; and Monday, Oct. 15. This includes the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, District Court, Offices of Circuit Court Clerk, the Administrative Office of the Courts and all court services, including Pretrial Services, Drug Court, the Court Designated Worker Program, Court Interpreting Services, the State Law Library and driver license branches.
“I think this is ridiculous,” said deputy clerk Cindy Graham. “Our judicial budget was balanced. It’s the general fund that was short and they are taking from the judicial budget to balance the general budget. That is not fair,” Graham said, adding they could cut a lot of other areas before taking from the court system.
Graham, who has worked for the courts for years, said the sad part about it is the judicial budget will never see this money they are generating from the furloughs again. “Do you really think they will put it back?” said Graham. “We were told several years ago that we sustain the court system. They even gave us pins that held that statement,” Graham said.
The Supreme Court of Kentucky has approved two orders that provide guidance on how the statewide court closures are to be implemented. While the two orders provide more detail, below is a summary of what the public and the law enforcement and legal communities should expect on furlough days:
• Trials and other court proceedings will not be scheduled on furlough days as there will be no staff available. Items already on the docket for those days will be rescheduled.
• Driver licenses will not be issued.
• The Supreme Court will suspend its rule requiring pretrial officers to interview a defendant within 12 hours after incarceration. No Pretrial Services staff will be working on furlough days.
• Deputy clerks will not be available to process bonds and no release orders will be issued.
• Existing after-hours protocol will be followed for processing domestic violence orders (DVOs) and emergency protective orders (EPOs).
• Local court designated workers will not be available. The Court Designated Worker Program will have a supervisor available to ensure that law enforcement adheres to its statutory requirements in cases involving the arrest and custody of juveniles.
• Technology Services staff will not be available to recover the CourtNet database in the event the system experiences an interruption in service.
• County offices that share space with the state court system in courthouses and judicial centers will not be affected.
Another issue that the court employees felt strongly about was their lack of raises over the years and the practice of increasing the retired state workers retirements.
“They want to keep giving raises to people who have already retired, well what about the people who still work for the state,” said deputy clerk Brenda Vincent, adding, “What about the double dipping by rehiring retired state workers, they could save there by stopping that,” added Vincent, who says she is tired of being told she is lucky to have a job. “Yes, I am thankful for my job, but I ‘d like to be thankful on my own terms not others,” said Vincent.
Furloughs are one of several measures included in the Judicial Branch’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Reduction Plan. The 2012 Kentucky General Assembly reduced the total funds available to the Judicial Branch by $25.2 million for Fiscal Year 2013. This included a permanent reduction to the annual base operating budget of $16.2 million and a one-time transfer of $9 million in payroll to the state’s general fund on June 30, 2012. Since the economic crisis began in 2008, the Judicial Branch has sustained repeated reductions to its budget and has cut 282 employees statewide, eliminated court programs and trimmed operating costs at all four levels of the court system to stay within its budget.
“I don’t mind furlough days if it helps the budget,” said Mary Pat Helton, a deputy clerk in the circuit court office. “I worry about other cuts that could come. What if they start cutting jobs again. I worry about long term cuts. I am the lowest on the totem pole here. I just hope this helps,” said Helton.
The Supreme Court and leadership from the Administrative Office of the Courts will meet in January to determine if additional furloughs and reductions are necessary for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, which runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013. They will also begin drafting a budget reduction plan for FY 2014, which presents an even greater shortfall than in FY 2013.
“I’m very unhappy about this,” said 12-year court employee Donna Bush. Bush is a deputy clerk in the drivers licence division.
“They have taken all of our incentives and raises and now they are starting this. It doesn’t seem fair,” said Bush.