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Judges ask for help in convincing the Legislature not to cut the courts further.

Court cuts will affect lawyers, clients

The courts need your help in convincing legislators to avoid further cuts to the judiciary.

At a recent seminar — “The Impact of Budget Cuts on Civil Litigation in MN Courts” — held at Fredrikson & Byron, the chief judges of the Minnesota’s appellate courts and largest county discussed what additional cuts to an already strained budget would mean for the courts, lawyers and their clients. An article on the discussion will appear in Monday’s issue of Minnesota Lawyer and is available online here. (Password required.)

During the discussion, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea told attendees that the judiciary is merely asking the Legislature to hold it harmless.

“We’re not over at the Legislature saying give us new money to bring back all the people we’ve lost. We’re not over at the Legislature saying give us new money to bring on new judges either even though our research tells us we need 20 more. We’re not over there saying give us new money to give our employees salary increases even though they haven’t had them for years. We’re saying don’t cut us any more — hold us harmless,” Gildea said.

One of the questions asked by the moderator, Hennepin County District Court Judge Jay Quam, that didn’t make it into the story, was: What should lawyers say when their clients ask why they should care about court funding?

Here are the judges’ responses.

Gildea: Courts don’t exist for the lawyers and judges. Courts exist for the people. We have to make them understand that the court is there for their business. … If we’re not there and we can’t [decide their disputes] in 60 days or 90 days or two years, then everything in their business is on hold while they are waiting.

Hennepin County District Court Chief Judge James Swenson: All the studies show that if you don’t deal with low-level crimes quickly and effectively, those people morph into more serious criminals — assaults, aggravated robberies, batteries. For our collective quality of life we have to have the court doors open and we have to deal with quickly with those quality of life crimes.

Minnesota Court of Appeals Chief Judge Matthew Johnson: Every party, every lawyer knows that they have that opportunity to appeal if they need to correct an error of law that was made in District Court. If the prospects are that it takes two years to get the appeal resolved I’m afraid we’ll have a lot of people who decide it’s not worth it even if I win. I’m also afraid we might have people who decide they want to appeal solely for the sake of delay, if they’ve got a judgment against them or for other reason. So we’re going to start seeing appeals that should get taken aren’t getting taken, and appeals that shouldn’t are. It’s not the way the system should work.

I understand that all three judges, as well as Minnesota State Court Administrator Sue Dosal, were making the case for the courts before a legislative panel yesterday. Let’s hope they were able to get the message through.

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