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Chief justice calls budget proposal ‘deeply troubling’

In response to the conference committee agreement, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea issued the following statement:

“The Legislature’s failure to prioritize public safety and the justice system in this critical budget-setting process is deeply troubling.

“The conference committee proposal, if passed into law, would have significant consequences for Minnesota’s justice system. This proposed budget would leave our district courts without enough judges to manage a rising caseload in an effective and timely manner. It would jeopardize our state’s drug courts, DWI courts, and veterans courts, which are effective tools for combating the rise of substance abuse in our state. It would put the constitutional rights of Minnesotans at risk by harming our ability to find qualified court interpreters or pay for psychological examinations of court participants. It would put the private and sensitive data of Minnesotans at risk by not allowing our courts to implement needed cybersecurity improvements.

“House and Senate leaders have called their budget, ‘Advancing the Minnesota Way.’ Jeopardizing public safety and access to justice is not ‘The Minnesota Way.’ Funding for our justice system has long been a bipartisan priority in Minnesota, and, especially given the state’s current fiscal stability, it must remain a priority.

“On behalf of Minnesota’s Judicial Branch and the people of Minnesota, I urge the Legislature to work with the governor on a budget plan that preserves a high-functioning justice system in Minnesota.”

The budget proposal released by Gov. Mark Dayton fully funds the Minnesota Judicial Branch budget request for the fiscal 2018-19 biennium. The conference committee agreement approved May 2 funds less than 30 percent of the Judicial Branch’s request. Below are some of the key differences between the two budget proposals.

Treatment court

  • The governor’s proposed budget fully funds the Minnesota Judicial Branch  request for $1.7 million per year to sustain Minnesota’s existing drug courts, DWI courts, veterans courts, and other treatment court programs.
  • The conference committee agreement provides $100,000 per year for this request.

Interpreters, psychological exams

  • The governor’s proposed budget fully funds the Judicial Branch request of $1.2 million per year to address the rising cost of providing psychological examinations in criminal and civil commitment cases, and to increase long-frozen payment rates for court interpreters. These are both constitutionally mandated services.
  • The conference committee agreement provides just more than $500,000 per year for this request.

Cybersecurity

  • The governor’s proposed budget fully funds the Judicial Branch request of $980,000 per year to improve the cybersecurity of the private data stored by Minnesota’s courts, and the electronic tools used by judges and court staff.
  • The conference committee agreement provides no new funding for this request.

New judgeships

  • The governor’s proposed budget fully funds the Judicial Branch request for two new district court judgeships to meet a rising caseload. The Minnesota judicial weighted caseload analysis, used since 1980 to assess judge need, indicates a need for two additional trial court judges to continue processing cases in an efficient and effective manner.
  • The conference committee agreement provides funding for two new judgeships. But the funding for one of the judgeships is tied to a policy provision that is estimated to add roughly one new judgeship worth of work to the district courts. This would mean that Minnesota’s district courts would still have fewer judges than needed to effectively manage current caseloads.

Compensation

  • The governor’s proposed budget fully funds the request for a 3.5 percent per year compensation pool for staff and a 3.5 percent per year compensation increase for judges.
  • The conference committee agreement provides no new funding for this request.

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