Lawmakers Support Judiciary's 'Road to Recovery' Budget
ALBANY - Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti (See Profile) brought her "road to recovery" budget pitch to a legislative hearing Wednesday, and lawmakers offered hope that the court system would get its 2.5 percent increase despite the governor's reluctance.
Right away, Senator John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, noted that the Judiciary has absorbed $15 million in civil legal service expenses that were once covered in other budgets. Some 90 minutes later, toward the end of the Joint Budget Hearing, Senator Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, and Senator Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, suggested that the Judiciary didn't ask for enough.
In between, lawmakers expressed support for the Office of Court Administration's $1.81 billion proposal, especially its plan to add 20 new Family Court judgeships.
The closest the spending plan came to criticism was when Assemblyman Phillip Steck, D-Albany, read from an article a local attorney wrote for the Albany County Bar Association newsletter in December.
In the article, Michael Friedman of Friedman & Molensek asked why OCA needs a budget increase. According to Friedman, the number of filings in the civil courts has decreased every year since 2008. Friedman also questioned the need for specialized courts, such asj the Human Tracking Court and Mental Health Court.
Prudenti highlighted the burdens the courts have endured: Five years of essentially flat budgets. Forced layoffs that left the court system with 1,900 fewer employees than five ago and the lowest staffing levels in a decade. Courtrooms that close at 4:30 p.m. so workers can leave by 5 p.m. and not racking up overtime.
The proposed 2014-2015 budget request seeks an increase of $44.2 million or 2.5 percent.
"This is not a wish-list budget," Prudenti said. "I call it a road to recovery budget."
The proposed budget allows the Judiciary to end its long hiring freeze and replace employees who retire or resign. It provides an additional $15 million for civil legal services as well as funding to implement statutorily-required indigent criminal defense standards. And it includes funds for contractual pay raises as well as the third phase of a judicial pay hike.