Maraman: Budget cuts jeopardize court operations

 

 

 

The judiciary is facing a $4.6 million funding shortfall, or 13 percent of the fiscal year 2018 appropriation, as a result budget cuts that “have gone from hampering, to now threatening, core court operations,” Chief Justice Katherine Maraman said Tuesday.

 

“The Judicial branch has been asked to bear 15 percent of total FY 2018 government-wide reductions, yet we only represent 5 percent of the general fund operations,” Maraman said in her state of the judiciary address delivered during the celebration of Law Week.

 

The judicial branch on Tuesday transmitted its 2019 budget request in the amount of  $36.7 million, which represents 5percent of total estimated general fund appropriations.

 

 “This submission follows two consecutive years of a status quo budget and the two preceding years with slight increases that were barely in line with the increasing costs of delivering important government services,” Maraman said.

 

She said judicial branch has presented a budget that funds operations, with focus on filling critical vacancies, implementing legislatively-mandated reclassification of all of our personnel, starting the electronic monitoring program, and giving adequate financial resources to our under-funded indigent defense services.

 

“Our Judicial Council, as always, weighed some important considerations when approving our budget submission. Our management team and division heads diligently combed through their respective budgets, cutting in areas they believed would not compromise service to court patrons,” Maraman said.

 

She said the Judicial Council has “encouraged management to begin weighing a number of deeper cost-reduction options that can be deployed in the event GovGuam revenues plummet and further compromise cash-flow into our branch.”

 

The Governor’s Office announced a 10 percent cut to the judicial branch. In reality, Maraman said, the Judiciary’s cash allotments have been slashed twice, causing the courts to bear a 10 percent cut of $3.4 million.

 

“We fully recognize that belt-tightening is a necessity to be borne by all of us who work in service to our people,” Maraman said.

 

While the courts have responsibly managed their dwindled resources by increasing efficiencies across all of all divisions,  Maraman warned that “cutting corners will inevitably come at the cost of serving the public.”

 

As early as October last year, she said, the management team had foreseen the emerging fiscal problem. The judiciary implemented austerity measures such as cutting hours for clerks and probation windows and hiring freeze for positions left vacant by retirement or separation.

Photo courtesy of the Judiciary

 

While the courts have responsibly managed their dwindled resources by increasing efficiencies across all of all divisions,  Maraman warned that “cutting corners will inevitably come at the cost of serving the public.”

“We have carefully considered many staff- driven recommendations, which have kept us moving ahead in very austere times, when allotments were stalled for much of the start of this current fiscal year,” Maraman said.

 

The budget cuts, the chief justice said, are affecting the courts’ ability to handle caseloads amid the rapidly growing complexity of modern judicial matters in Guam.

 

The courts have seen an increased volume of caseloads amid limited manpower over the years, the chief justice noted. In addition to cases pending in trial court, the Guam Supreme Court considered over 70 new appeals, writs and attorney discipline matters last year alone. The Guam Supreme Court has three justices, the Superior Court has seven judges, one full-time magistrate, three referees and the courts staff.

 

“I realize that you have heard, and will continue to hear, pleas for adequate resources from many funded Government of Guam entities,” Maraman said. “I am concerned that the monotonous repetition of these requests may result in listlessness.”

 

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The chief justice reminded the governor that the judiciary is not “just another agency,” but a separate and co-equal branch of government that plays a critical role in public safety, in protecting children, in resolving family disputes, and maintaining commerce by adjudicating business disputes.

 

“As my colleague said to this body not too long ago: ‘The judicial branch has neither the power of the sword nor the purse but instead must rely on the respect of the people in order to carry out its duties,’” she said. “The trust of the people in our ability to run a fair and impartial court system is not just an ideal but a necessity for us to function as our Constitution and Organic Act envision.”

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