The judicial branch today announced its list of proposed cuts to services to make the monetary savings required by the Governor’s new budget proposal. As feared, lots of people are going to be laid off, courthouses will close and services will be drastically compromised. You can read the full list of cuts here [PDF] and here‘s a Capitol Watch post on the proposed cuts. I’ve listed the most significant (to me) proposed changes below, but first, a quote from the Chief Justice’s press release [PDF] today:
Our state Constitution in Article I, Section 10 states: “All courts shall be open, and every person, for an injury done to him in his person, property or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered without sale, denial or delay.”
With these cuts, however, I am not certain that we can adequately meet the requirements of Article I, Section 10. Access will be limited and we also anticipate that the resolution of civil, family, housing and small claims cases will be delayed. The end result is that our ability to administer justice as required by the Constitution may very well be compromised.
Now, onto those cuts. First, four criminal courts will either physically or functionally close:
- Enfield (GA13) will shut down the entire building and transfer criminal cases to Manchester (GA12) and Hartford (GA14).
- Derby (GA5) will move its criminal and motor-vehicle matters to the Milford (GA22/JD) court.
- Bristol (GA17) will move its criminal and motor-vehicle matters to New Britain (GA15).
- Norwalk (GA20) will move its criminal and motor-vehicle matters to the Stamford Judicial District court.
In addition, juvenile court operations in several courts will also close/move: Danbury (moved to Waterbury/Stamford), Rockville (moved to Willimantic/Hartford) and Torrington (moved to Waterbury).
119 Temporary Assistant Clerks (affectionately called “tacks”) will lose their jobs. I believe that’s a large majority, if not, all of them. These are, most often, the clerks you see sitting in courtrooms, taking notes, marking exhibits and doing clerk-y things.
But there’s more dire stuff: the only three operational drug courts in CT: New Haven, Bridgeport and Danielson will close. Drugs courts were introduced as a very useful and effective way to combat the high incidence of minor drug-related offenses. If you ask about its success, YMMV, but undoubtedly it was an attempt to recognize that drug offenders need help and treatment, not incarceration.
The cuts also mean that some important services like “Building Bridges” which helps provide housing for homeless people who can no longer stay in shelters, is completely eliminated.
Finally, in more devastating news for the state’s poor and needy, the amount the Judicial Branch provides to Legal Aid organizations in the State will be reduced by 33%: from $1.5 million to $1million. For those organizations who are constantly struggling to find funding, $500,000 is a lot of money and sadly this only ensures that their ability to provide needed services just got more challenging.
It’s already pretty clear from this brief summary that it will be the poor, underprivileged and needy who will most feel the effects of these cuts and closings. But that’s not the end of it. The public defender’s office also has to reduce its budget by some $4.7 million dollars, which only means layoffs, increased caseloads and – unfortunately – an adverse impact on the ability to effectively represent – yet again – the underprivileged and poor among us. I have no actual details about the public defender cuts, nor would I be stupid enough to actually say anything about that even if I did, so instead I’ll just point you to this piece in the New Britain Herald, which has some information.
Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, it’s a sad day in CT for not only the thousands of employees who stand to lose their livelihoods and who knows what else as a consequence, but also those who rely on the State for the support that they are unable to provide themselves. One can only hope that there’s a way to avoid all of this becoming reality.