January 28, 2010
Joint Statement in Response to Gov. Patrick's FY11 Budget
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall &
Chief Justice for Administration & Management Robert A. Mulligan
As Governor Patrick commences the FY11 budget process by announcing his fiscal plan, we want to underscore the significant role of our courts in ensuring social and economic stability and growth across the Commonwealth. The predictability and timeliness of court proceedings are essential for victims of crime, as well as for children and families, small and large businesses, tenants and landlords and others who depend upon justice, especially in these times of financial uncertainty.
We anticipated that the Commonwealth would face another very difficult year, and have made plans for that eventuality, fully appreciating the formidable fiscal challenges facing the Governor and the Legislature. We did not, however, anticipate that the Governor's budget would incorporate a radical proposal to move Probation to the Executive Branch.
We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the Governor's proposal. Probation began as a function of the Judicial Branch and has operated successfully as part of the Judiciary for well over a century. This has shaped judicial and probationary practices that have served this Commonwealth well, practices that have been recognized and endorsed across this country. Probation serves as a vital and effective arm of the court's implementation of arraignment, sentencing and community supervision.
Probation should remain in the Judicial Branch, but with important and necessary changes, changes that require the collaboration of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches. The current criticisms of some aspects of Probation should be addressed with the restoration of full judicial authority over Probation, and not by the drastic proposal to remove Probation from the Judicial Branch entirely, a move that is inconsistent with current best thinking on sentencing and corrections.
Turning to Governor Patrick's recommendation for FY11 funding of the Trial Court, his proposal of $398 million (excluding all funds for Probation) represents a significant reduction of $16 million from the Trial Court's austere but reasonable maintenance request of $414 million (excluding all funds for Probation). The funding of the Judiciary in this current fiscal year, FY10, has required unprecedented expense reduction efforts throughout the Trial Court, which now has 600 fewer employees than in mid-2008. Understaffed courts already are straining to meet the needs of 42,000 daily court users.
The Governor's FY11 budget recommendation would require the Trial Court to take further extensive measures, including additional court relocations, and a number of system-wide furlough days. The hiring freeze implemented in October 2008 must continue, despite critical vacancies, and we must continue to seek lease reductions. To plan further for these significant cuts we will, among other things, establish a court relocation advisory committee to identify factors for consideration, seek public input, and recommend locations for consolidation. We appreciate that the Governor's budget further consolidates line items, increasing management flexibility over Trial Court operations, and giving the courts the authority to renegotiate or terminate leases or temporarily close courthouses, which will be essential to our continued cost reduction efforts.
As the budget discussions now move to the Legislature, we will work closely with Legislative leaders, making a strong case for adequate court funding. We will vigorously oppose the removal of Probation to the Executive Branch, and will advocate for reforms that support the optimal organizational structure of Probation within the Judicial Branch. We believe that legislators value the many levels on which the courts provide fundamental safety and stability and contribute to economic health and vitality in communities across the state.
We value and pay tribute to the outstanding efforts being made by judges, clerks, and all judicial employees who are delivering justice under most difficult circumstances. Employees across the system have stepped up to fill the void left by so many vacancies, even though the modest, fairly negotiated increases to 3,500 union employees have not been funded since 2008.
With the dedication and support of all court personnel we will continue to manage scarce public resources with great care. We also will maintain our commitment to working with internal and external constituencies, as we explore all operational efficiencies that reduce costs without diminishing the delivery of quality justice to the people of Massachusetts.
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