Is it safe to go to the courthouse? A Boston Bar Association task force issued a report today arguing that the judiciary should be spared from further budget cuts. Among the report's findings: Several of the state's courts have a "severe shortage" of court officers.
"In some courts, uniformed police officers are asked to provide security in courtrooms; in others, court sessions proceed without any court officer at all, creating a significant security risk for judges, litigants, witnesses, court staff, and the public," the nine-page report found.
The court officer shortage was just one of a number of what the bar association called "highly troubling" effects on the judiciary of recent budget cuts.
The state has been tightening its budget belt because of a decline in revenues due to the stumbling economy.
The Trial Court voluntarily cut spending in fiscal 2009 at the request of Governor Deval Patrick. Then, in fiscal 2010, the Trial Court's budget was cut to $559.5 million -- down $24.2 million, compared with the year before. The governor has proposed another cut of $10 million for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1, the report said. The House and Senate have not yet released their budgets.
A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance defended the governor's budget. “In these challenging economic times, the Governor has called for shared sacrifice from all those in state government in order to close our budget gap and help support critical programs and services. The proposed cut to the Judiciary’s budget is a 2.46% decrease from their current budget and is in line with what is proposed for other agencies," Cyndi Roy said in a statement.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven C. Panagiotakos didn't offer much solace, saying the Senate budget will likely be even tougher than the governor's.
"Given the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in financially, it's going to be difficult," he said. "We're still in a great deal of turbulence, so we all have to still buckle up."
At the same time, he also said, "We certainly want to make sure as best we can that another branch of government has the resources to carry out their constitutional duties."
But the task force concluded that further budget cuts "would severely undermine the capability and adequacy of our judicial system, particularly the trial courts, which are already operating on the brink." It recommended a "maintenance budget" for the Trial Court of $565.8 million.
The report also recommended a $9.2 million budget for the Supreme Judicial Court and an $11.3 million budget for the Appeals Court.
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