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Judicial cuts include job eliminations

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's judicial system was hit with
nearly $7 million in self-imposed cuts Thursday that will be felt
across all layers of courts.
The cutbacks announced by Chief Justice John Minton Jr. will
eliminate more than 100 jobs, abolish family and juvenile drug
courts and trim the budgets of Kentucky's appellate courts.
"It was my idea that the pain would be shared across the
judicial branch, said Minton, who called the cuts the largest the
state's court system has ever faced.
Minton briefed about 150 elected court officials about the cuts,
which officials said were necessary to ensure a balanced judicial
budget in the fiscal year beginning July 1. He then sent an e-mail
announcing the reductions to elected and non-elected court workers
across Kentucky.
The chief justice told reporters that the cuts were "simply the
consequence of a reduced appropriation" from state lawmakers
during this year's regular legislative session.
"The judicial branch is going to make every effort to live
within its means," he said.
The General Assembly passed a judicial branch budget that
included $290.8 million in general fund money for the next fiscal
year. Minton had requested $315.1 million.
The cutbacks announced Thursday will eliminate 113 positions, or
3.4 percent of the judicial branch's non-elected workforce. Five of
those positions are vacant. Another 39 of the targeted positions
are within the Administrative Office of the Courts operation in
Frankfort, with the other 69 spread across the judicial system. The
AOC is the operational arm of the court system.
The plan also abolishes family and juvenile drug courts,
effective Jan. 1, for an annualized savings of $1.5 million. It
imposes 3 percent cuts on the state Supreme Court and Court of
Appeals budgets, amounting to $140,500 for the high court and
$226,400 for the appeals court.
Minton said he suspected that both appellate courts "are going
to have to turn to cutting staff in order to accomplish" the
cutbacks.
The plan also reduces 18 family court programs from four to
three staff positions to achieve $706,700 in savings, effective
July 1. Other budget-cutting moves include suspending the overtime
program for deputy circuit court clerks for a $2 million savings,
and decertifying trial commissioners who are not constitutionally
required for a $198,900 savings.
The court system also will continue its hiring freeze.
Court filings in Kentucky have hovered around 1.2 million in the
past two or three years, court officials said. Minton said the cuts
were targeted to try to minimize the impact.
"Our goal would be that we continue to deliver the same level
of service, but we're going to be stretching our personnel to do
that," Minton said.
Minton noted that Kentucky's court system has avoided furloughs
of non-elected judicial employees or reducing days courthouses are
open. He said the looming deficit would have been more crippling if
the court system had not started cost cutting as early as 2008.
The judicial system faced an estimated deficit of $33.3 million
in the coming fiscal year. A one-time carry-forward of $26.5
million offset much of it, leaving a deficit of $6.8 million that
was plugged with the cuts announced Thursday.
Meanwhile, the courts could become a victim if state lawmakers
fail to pass a new executive branch budget by July 1. That budget
funds the operations of prosecutors, law enforcement and public
defenders - "the people who make the cases move through the
system," Minton said.
Lawmakers ended their 60-day session without passing an
executive branch budget amid a bitter dispute between the House and
Senate. Gov. Steve Beshear has said he intends to call a special
legislative session later this spring to have lawmakers finish work
on the budget.
Looking ahead, the judicial system faces more budget woes in the
second year of the two-year budget cycle, when the deficit is
projected to be $10.6 million.
"When you look into the second half of the biennium, it gets
more troublesome," Minton said. "Because those are staggering,
sobering numbers."
Court officials said that shortfall will be dealt with in coming
months.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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