That prompted state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea to issue a sternly worded statement Wednesday to a joint, information-only hearing of the House Public Safety and Judiciary committees.
The hearing, which also included Corrections subcommittee members, was convened to publicly describe what’s in the agreement.
Gildea said she had about 70 meetings with lawmakers and three with the governor this year, and expressed frustration that the legislative and executive branches have neglected a key request of the judiciary, the government’s independent third branch.
She acknowledged the budget does fund most of the branch’s “modest, targeted” request. But it omits a judgeship needed for the 7th Judicial District, which includes St. Cloud, Alexandria and Little Falls.
Twenty-nine district court judges serve there now. But according to the branch’s weighted caseload data, Gildea said, the district really needs 31.5 judges to provide efficiently resolves its court disputes. Each judgeship includes support staff and costs about $879,000.
Gildea urged lawmakers to finance both positions. “The consequences for not doing so are very real for our justice system, our citizens and our state,” she said.
In a brief interview afterward, Gildea said Minnesota’s entire judiciary is experiencing heavy caseloads because of spikes in child protection, drug and serious-crime case filings. The 7th’s needs are particularly acute because it is so “under-judged,” she said.
“The judgeship is really important and I wanted the committee to hear that from me,” Gildea said.
Though the budget deal is signed by all the principles and is unlikely to be amended much during the coming special session, Gildea holds out hope. “We feel it’s never over until it’s over here,” she said.
Senate Judiciary Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said money that might have financed the missing judgeship was needed elsewhere. But he regrets losing the position. “But, you know, there’s always next year,” he said.
“Oh really?” exclaimed House Public Safety Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, when told of the quote. The House had fully funded the branch’s request, he noted. The Senate did not.
“It was on the table this year, dammit!” Mariani said with a frustrated laugh. “It’s probably on the table 10 years from now, too.”
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