Judiciary Seeks 'Road to Recovery' Budget

, New York Law Journal

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ALBANY - With its lowest staffing level in a decade and the effects of five straight years of no-growth budgets taking their toll, the Judiciary on Friday submitted a "road to recovery" spending request seeking a 2.5 percent increase, with plans to create 20 new family court judgeships and commit $15 million in additional funding for civil legal services.

"There is a point beyond which the Judiciary cannot be pushed if it is still to play its role in our constitutional system," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti (See Profile) said in the executive summary of a budget sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo. "We have reached that point."

The proposed 2014-2015 budget request seeks $1.81 billion for general fund operations, representing an increase of $44.2 million or 2.5 percent.

Chart: 5 Year History of Judiciary Budgets

That sum, the Judiciary said, would allow the court system to maintain current staffing levels, fill a limited number of critical positions, ensure courtrooms remain open each workday until 5 p.m. and devote an additional $15 million for civil legal services.

It would also enable the court system to cover significant expenses over which it has little or no control, such as a $17 million increase in support for the final phase of the statutorily required indigent criminal defense standards, $17.5 million for mandatory raises for non-judicial employees and $8.4 million for the third-phase of a judicial pay hike.

There are no new capital projects in the budget, but the Judiciary does seek to spend $5.1 million in bonded funds for the ongoing construction of a court officers academy in Brooklyn.

"The Judiciary budget this year is really a 'road to recovery' budget," Prudenti said in an interview. "I believe it is a solid budget."

Lippman and Prudenti said in the budget message that the Judiciary "simply cannot, as it has for over the past [five] years, absorb these increased costs with no additional funding and still meet its constitutional mission."

According to their summary, the Judiciary had nearly $22 million less for spending in the current fiscal year than it had in 2009-10.

They said that the workforce has been reduced by more than 1,900 employees over five years, the lowest staff level in more than a decade (currently 14,529 non-judicial positions) even though the workload has increased substantially during the same period. In the budget message, the Judiciary also said the workforce reduction has led to delays in processing court documents and delays in trials.

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