Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / News / Economy / State judiciary tightening its belt further

State judiciary tightening its belt further

Jonathan Lippman

The state judiciary is taking steps to trim another $100 million from its proposed 2011-12 budget.

Savings, according to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, will be realized through “continued reductions in the court system’s work force including a hard freeze on hiring, layoffs of administrative and other non-operational personnel if necessary.”

In a release issued Wednesday morning, he also talked about efficiencies being realized in non-personal service expenditures including programs such as judicial hearing officers, town and village court assistance, the Judicial Institute and legal reference materials.

“This reduced budget request will have a significant impact on every part of our court system,” Judge Lippman said. “Nevertheless, we can and will keep the doors of our courthouses fully open while fostering equal access to justice. Difficult sacrifices will be made, but this is exactly what we should be doing as a good partner in government at a time when the state is facing extraordinary challenges.”

The judiciary came under fire Feb. 1 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his state budget proposal, criticizing the independent judicial branch of government for submitting a spending plan that calls for increases when he was asking state agencies to reduce operations by 10 percent. The state is facing a $10 billion deficit before the next fiscal year starts April 1.

By law, the Judiciary was required to submit its spending plan Dec. 1, two months before the executive branch’s deadline.

Judge Lippman’s additional $100 million savings falls short of cutting the proposed $2.7 billion judiciary budget by 10 percent. The judiciary’s original budget request included a $50 million increase. The actual operating portion of the budget is $2.1 billion, down 2 percent from this year’s operating budget of $2.66 billion.

The proposal also includes a $48 million reappropriation to adjust judicial salaries retroactive to April 1, 2005 for the state’s judges who have not received a pay raise in 12 years. There is also $25 million for civil legal services to defend the state’s poor and low-income litigants fighting to keep basic life needs.

Fringe benefits for judges, justices and non-judicial employees, mandated by contracts, are up $50.7 million, from $566.7 million in 2010-11 to $617.4 million proposed for next year.

“In my State of the Judiciary address two weeks ago, I made clear that the court system recognizes its dual obligation to reduce expenditures in response to New York’s grave fiscal crisis while simultaneously fulfilling our constitutional responsibility to keep our courthouses open and provide equal justice for all,” Judge Lippman said, noting then that a review was in process to achieve additional savings.

He estimated streamlining the court structure from its “archaic and inefficient” constitutionally mandated 11 separate trial courts would save the state, litigants and local governments “many hundreds of millions of dollars” a year.

“Over the coming months, I will be reaching out to the governor — who has made it a priority to consolidate and streamline state and local government — as well as the Legislature and our own judicial associations so that we can together think anew about how to create a court system that is less cumbersome, more rational in its construction and designed to achieve greater economies and better serve the public,” Judge Lippman said.

“Within the next 10 days, we will provide to the Legislature a package of proposals to streamline proceedings in civil, criminal, family and surrogate’s courts that will save money, expedite case processing and enable us to better serve the public.”

Judge Craig J. Doran, new administrative judge of the eight-county Seventh Judicial District, said he is confident that under the leadership of Judge Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau and Judge Michael V. Coccoma, deputy chief administrative judge for courts outside of New York City, impacts will be minimized.

“I certainly respect the chief judge’s priorities, his message and his leadership in joining the other branches of the government and meeting the challenges of the state’s budget crisis,” he said, acknowledging the courts have already lost a lot of people through last fall’s retirement incentives.

Some 1,566 employees — about 10 percent of the state court system’s work force — accepted the incentives including 58 of the 558 court employees in the Seventh Judicial District. Some of the positions were filled before a self-imposed hiring freeze instituted late last year.

“When that happens, you have to rely on the dedicated folks who remain to fill the gap, particularly in view of the budget crisis that we now face and the restrictions in filling those positions,” Judge Doran said.

“Certainly, there are an awful lot of people working a lot harder then they were before to fill the gap, so to speak. The response has been tremendous. I have heard little or no complaints from anyone. The people are stepping up and they’re doing some tremendous work under difficult situations.”