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EXCERPTS FROM THE CHIEF JUSTICE'S BUDGET REMARKS BEFORE
THE JOINT FINANCE COMMITTEE

The Chief Justice concluded that:

“The level of cutbacks that the Judicial Branch has already experienced will severely impact core functions and impede our ability to meet our constitutional obligations. Any further cuts, to be undertaken as a part of the strategic reduction/investment target for FY 2010, will have grave repercussions for the public, state agencies, such as the Department of Correction, and law enforcement agencies. They will experience increasing court delays and rising costs in their operations because of those delays. We are at the point where the strain that any more cuts would place on the court system is likely to take the justice system over the edge. As a consequence, we ask that other means for addressing the budget shortfalls be sought. Further revenue increases, even if painful, should be explored, instead of additional across-the-board reductions which do not discriminate between mandatory, core services and less necessary, although worthy, services. . . Despite efforts to minimize the impact of cutbacks on court operations, I can see, however, the Delaware Judiciary’s reputation beginning to suffer as the Courts fail to obtain the necessary material and personnel resources to accomplish our mandated mission. Many have worked tirelessly over long years to build the Delaware Courts’ strong standing. The cost to the State of Delaware, financially and otherwise, if the Courts’ reputation is diminished, will be devastating.”

On February 11, 2009, Chief Justice Myron T. Steele presented the Judicial Branch’s budgetary needs for Fiscal Year 2010 (July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010) to the Joint Finance Committee of the General Assembly. Because of the State’s current severe fiscal problems, Chief Justice Steele stated that the Judicial Branch has adopted a three-pronged approach to addressing the budget situation, including implementation of: 1) cutbacks in non-fixed costs, 2) a hiring freeze, and 3) creative options for enhancing revenues.

First, he noted that non-fixed costs represent only a small fraction (approximately 8%) of the total Judicial Branch budget. Cuts already taken in FY 2009 total more than $1 million, with an additional $1.85 million proposed in reductions and strategic reductions/revenue enhancements in the Governor’s Recommended Budget for FY 2010. These severe cuts “represent a drop of more than one-half of the Judicial Branch’s total FY 2010 non-fixed costs budget.”

Second, the Chief Justice focused on the Judicial Branch’s efforts to control personnel costs by implementing a hiring freeze in March 2008, which has continued without interruption and has precluded the filling of all but the most critical vacant positions related to security and case processing. With a growing number of core service positions, such as clerical case processors, remaining unfilled for months, the impact of the hiring freeze on day-to-day court operations has affected the courts’ ability to meet the public’s needs. At the same time, the Chief Justice noted, the difficult economic times are placing more demands on the courts. As he explained, “more debt collection actions are being filed because of unemployment and resulting increased litigation – even for small amounts of money. FY 2008 overall case filings are up in the courts by 3.3% compared to FY 2007.”

Third, the Chief Justice discussed the Judicial Branch’s creative approaches to revenue enhancements, through fee increases and other sources, which are projected to increase revenues by close to $2.2 million in FY 2009, and $2.8 million in FY 2010.

Joint Finance Committee Hearing Photo Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, with State Court Administrator Patricia W. Griffin, at the Joint Finance Committee Hearing on February 11, 2009
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