NC Chief Justice Tells Lawmakers Court System Needs More Money
North Carolina’s top judge told the state House, Senate, and governor Wednesday that the state justice system’s budget is under tremendous stress. Chief Justice Mark Martin called for more money to fund basic court operations, modest pay increases for staff, and upgrade technology.
The legislature bumped up funding for the court system in the years leading up to 2008, but began cutting once the recession settled in. Martin told the audience the court system has done its part to make do with less, but lawmakers now need to step up spending.
"Under the metrics used by the National Center for State Courts, our judicial branch is now understaffed by 536 positions. That’s approximately 9 percent of our workforce," said Martin.
The court system has used some of the savings from vacant positions to cover shortfalls for basic operations like payments to jurors, court reporters and expert witnesses. Martin told the audience if the state can’t pay for these services, it can’t conduct timely trials.
"The resulting delays erode public trust and confidence in the integrity of the justice system because they impair our ability to promptly apprehend offenders and see that they are tried and appropriately sentenced."
He said lab results of blood-alcohol tests in DWI cases and DNA analysis in serious felony cases regularly take more than a year.
"These delays undermine the ability of our criminal justice system to deter crime and do justice," said Martin.
As a way to avoid costly trials and cope with heavy caseloads, he said many cases end with the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser offense.
Martin did not put a dollar amount on his request. The state is spending $464 million to fund the entire justice system this year. He pointed out that’s less than 3 percent of the state’s budget.