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Minton: No furloughs for Kentucky court workers in 2013

Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Employees of Kentucky’s court systems won’t have to take unpaid furlough days during this calendar year, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said Thursday.

Minton said the state’s judicial branch is wrestling with a $28.7 million budget shortfall in its $186 million operating budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. As a result, he would not eliminate the possibility of furloughs for courts workers in the first six months of 2014.

Minton also said layoffs have not been eliminated as a budget-control option this calendar year, but there are no plans for them at this time.

“We live from month to month,” Minton told reporters after delivering his annual State of the Judiciary Address to the legislature’s Interim Joint Judiciary Committee.

Minton reminded state lawmakers that the judicial branch furloughed its 3,300 non-elected employees for three days last year to save nearly $1.2 million. That marked the first time in the court system’s modern history that it had to shut down because of a funding shortfall.

“This meant that services at all four levels of the court system were unavailable to the citizens who needed them,” Minton said. “I can tell you with all candor that this was one of the most disheartening actions I have had to take while serving as chief justice.”

Minton, of Bowling Green, was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006. He became chief justice in June 2008.
Minton’s summary to lawmakers was that “the state of the judiciary is strong but frankly it is showing strain.”

He said Kentucky’s 4.3 million residents generate nearly 1 million court cases each year. To meet that demand, the judicial branch gets about 3 percent of the state budget, Minton said.

In the fiscal year that ends June 30, the branch had to cut $25.2 million from its budget — 86 percent of which is tied to personnel. It imposed tighter restrictions on filling vacancies and placed a cap of 2,200 on the number of participants accepted into drug court. That cap was lifted in November.

Another financial woe, Minton said, is the court system’s obsolete case management system, which is based on technology nearly 25 years old and is running on programming that is more than 10 years old. A separate database is required in each county, he said.

“That means we maintain 120 databases for our current case management system at the trial court level. We also maintain separate systems and databases for the appellate courts,” he said. “None of these systems are able to communicate with one another, meaning that we cannot share case information among counties or levels of the court system.”

He expressed hope that lawmakers will allow the court system to borrow enough money to address the problem. The courts would not need additional state General Fund money to pay back the debt, he said.

“No one knows how much longer this Band-Aid approach will work,” he said.

In his address, Minton said the judicial branch recently has opened the Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court, the first court of its kind in Kentucky. It provides treatment and support services to help veterans stabilize their mental health and recover from addiction. It is funded by a three-year, $350,000 federal grant.

Minton said the judicial branch has started the process of applying for a similar grant for Hardin County and is looking at expanding the program to Fayette and Christian counties. These four counties are home to the majority of Kentucky veterans, he said.

Filed Under: KY CourtsKY General AssemblyState Government

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Comments

  1. Dummy says:

    Can someone please help me. I am a dummy. I can’t understand how the Judicial Branch has a $28.7 million budget shortfall but has money to purchase the Home Depot property and renovate. They also have the money to build a case management system without needing any additional funds. Yet, they needed to furlough their workers for 3 days to help balance the budget. It looks like they have money to do the things they want to do but not pay their employees.

  2. Jerry T. says:

    Dummy: Although the Court does not have seperate funds like most governmental agencies (the Director can direct funds anyway they like unlike most sound governmental accounting procedures) they do work like the rest of us and have no problem financing that which they do not have. As for the case management system, it probably has specified funds from a federal grant and therefore are unable to use funds for personnel although “creative summaries” will allow them to broaden the use of the funds to benefit two projects at the same time (one having nothing to do with the system).

    The bigger question has to do with why they penalize the public by closing courthouses when they could use FURLOUGH days to just not pay for state holidays when employees and buildings are closed anyway. This where the COURT is just bad at politics, instead of making the hard smart decisions they rather whine and pout about their situation.

    Remember, the real savings never occurs during furloughs since the ELECTED officials have to be paid; as usual it is just the poor single mother who bears the weight of the poor leadership.

  3. Ralph says:

    Those of us who have watched as AOC has wasted — billions, by now — on these over-sized and frequently butt-ugly new “justice centers” while (among other things) enriching certain Supreme Court judges and Paul Patton’s favorite construction manager, Codell Construction remain confused by all this poor-mouthing by what is essentially a sub-par judicial branch, even by Kentucky standards. I know. Different pots of money and all that. But it’s still our money and it’s being very poorly managed by this self-serving bureaucracy.

  4. Jerry T. says:

    Ralph: Remember that the Legislative Branch has sole responsibility for allocation of funds (and want their name on the plaque); the Judicial branch only manages the process.

    The problem with this program is that the Director starts it and then forgets about it resulting in issues throughout the process (it’s the largest single budgetary expense to the public and they don’t know how to manage that much money; hard to believe but that is why they still work at AOC).

    Chief Justice’s continue to hire lawyers with poor management skills that do not possess the skills to monitor and direct their managers and staff; of course the Director’s first response, despite also haveing a Deputy Director, is “that is why I have a manager” but they provide zero evaluation or guidance to those managers.