Florida courts brace for budget fallout

first_img November 1, 2001 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Florida courts brace for budget fallout Florida courts brace for budget fallout Senior Editor With a prediction of poorer and slower services to litigants and fewer services for children caught up in the court system, Florida judges, prosecutors, and defenders are bracing for the outcome of the special legislative session to address the state’s budget shortfall. The session began October 22, as this News went to press, and was scheduled to end no later than November 1. But even before the session, called to address an estimated $1.3-billion revenue deficit, courts and related agencies were cutting back and planning for possible further budget reductions. In a September 26 memo to chief judges, Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Wells ordered a halt to all hiring, except for judicial assistants, and a moratorium on purchases of equipment and office furniture. In turn, Wells was asked by the House and Senate appropriations committees to identify how the court budget could be cut by five percent. Trial courts also began coping with cutbacks in state programs that affect their operations, such as not having probation officers in every courtroom. And state attorneys and public defenders are grappling with the real possibility of furloughing employees and not being able to handle their caseloads. The problem, say many court officials, is their budgets are mostly salaries with little other spending, and any cuts mean reductions in service. “We don’t have much wiggle room,” said Skip Babb, Fifth Circuit public defender and president of the Florida Public Defenders Association. “We don’t anticipate a five or seven or 10 percent cut in arrests or informations filed or people charged with capital crimes and facing the death penalty. Our caseloads are already overloaded. We’re in quite a dilemma. We have a constitutional responsibility to do this work, and we’re already busting at the seams.” The budget problems began last summer when the nation’s economic sluggishness led to a decline in state income. Gov. Jeb Bush sent out letters to state agencies, including the courts and related agencies, asking them to begin finding ways to cut spending. The September 11 terrorist attacks put a further dent in state revenues, because of a decline in sales taxes collected from tourists. State experts estimated on October 15 that the shortfall would be around $1.3 billion for the current budget year and $1.7 billion for next year. Aside from Bush’s efforts and his call for a special session, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Fiscal Responsibility Council sent letters to all state departments, including judicial branch agencies, asking them how they would cut their budgets by five percent. A spokesman for the Senate committee said that is not an indication the legislature will make an across-the-board five-percent cut, but the information will help lawmakers figure out where to make cuts, both in the special session and in next year’s regular session which will draw up the 2002-03 budget. “I see no alternative but to impose a hiring freeze on all positions in the branch, with the one exception of judicial assistants,” Chief Justice Wells wrote in his memo to chief circuit judges. “Additionally, I am imposing a moratorium on the purchase of equipment or furniture. I also encourage you to make every effort to limit travel in your court and to curtail other routine expenditures.” Circuits where that imposes an undue hardship can apply to Wells for an exception. “I know these measure are difficult and will impede normal operations, but we have no other choice until we have a better understanding of what the reductions will be,” he wrote. While that memo was going out, Wells was also working on the reply to the legislative budgeting panels on how the courts could cut five percent of their budgets. His letter noted that the courts have a constitutional duty to provide access for all people to “a functioning and efficient court system.” “[M]y first response to you is that the judicial branch cannot meet your target of a five-percent reduction in the recurring current budget without serious harm to the courts’ constitutional responsibility,” Wells wrote. He recommended that no judgeships be cut and that none of the judgeships approved by the legislature earlier this year effective January 2 be delayed. Meeting the five-percent goal, Wells added, would require these cuts: $453,500 from the Foster Care Citizen Review Panels in seven counties; almost $1.2 million from the Juvenile Alternative Sanctions Program; $692,636 from Dade County’s Voices for Children program; almost $4.2 million from the guardian ad litem program; almost $1.7 million from the attorney ad litem program in Orange and Osceola counties; $200,000 from a Dade County truancy program; $90,262 from a guardianship monitoring program in Broward County; $992,760 from the indigency examination program; $325,000 from pre-indictment witness expenses; and $10,500 from the Drug Court Steering Committee. “We emphatically state that these trial court items should not be cut,” Wells added. “All but four of these items directly relate to children, which we all believe have to be a priority even in difficult fiscal periods. If we do not pay for these kinds of children’s services now, it is our definite experience that we will pay much more later. Certainly, the guardian ad litem program should be a priority.” Wells said if any of those programs were cut, it should be ones that benefit only local areas and statewide programs should be spared. He went on to say there were savings that could be made in the court budget by forgoing new funding in the 2001-02 budget and curtailing other programs. Those include: $72,382 in Supreme Court operating cost reductions; $454,365 in service reductions from the Office of the State Courts Administrator; $288,258 in cost reductions for the district courts of appeal; $1.2 million by not spending new funding for the guardian ad litem program; not spending $760,000 for improvements in the Pinellas and Brevard counties drug court programs; $371,796 from the foster care review programs in Clay, Duval, Nassau, Marion, and Manatee counties; and $200,000 from the children’s advocacy program in Hillsborough County. The chief justice concluded that while he wanted to be frank on why it would be harmful to cut five percent from the courts’ budget, “I want you to be expressly assured that I am committed to restricting funding requests to the activities necessary to provide services essential to the people of this state.” Among the circuit courts, the budget crisis has had a variable impact, depending at least somewhat on what programs are funded locally and which depend on state dollars. For example both Broward (17th Circuit) and Palm Beach (15th Circuit) counties have court psychology programs to which judges can refer parties when determining visitation in divorce cases and in dependency and delinquency cases. The state-funded Broward program has been cut, while the locally funded Palm Beach program is continuing. Seventeenth Circuit Chief Judge Dale Ross said the termination of that program has had two effects on the court. The psychological services have to be sent to outside sources at a greater expense, which means indigents can’t afford the services, and it takes longer to get the services and therefore slows the handling of cases. The circuit has also lost a guardianship investigator from its probate division and may lose a general master that is part of its family court plan, he said. Any further cuts could be catastrophic, Ross said, adding, “As you well know, the court doesn’t have programs. Ninety-six percent of the court’s budget is comprised of the judges’ and the assistants’ salaries; everything else is four percent. There’s really no room to cut.” If there are cuts, there will be “loss of service to the public and caseloads will back up,” Ross said. “What I hope doesn’t happen is when you have a single mother who desperately needs that child support that it doesn’t trickle down so she’s without that child support.” Fifteenth Circuit Chief Judge Edward Fine said cuts to non-court programs can have an impact on courts. He noted that a Department of Corrections pretrial intervention program that kept 1,800 people out of jail has been cut, which could place a greater burden on the courts. And he’s concerned the current budget crisis is the precursor of a much bigger problem when, under mandate of a constitutional amendment passed in 1998, the state is required to pick up a larger share of court funding no later than July 2004. He said the 15th Circuit has gotten a variety of private and federal grants and county funding for programs that not only help the courts function more efficiently but also improve services to residents. Those include such things as a two-year, $400,000 grant to create an elder court center to serve the county’s 300,000 people who are 60 or older, a federal grant to set up a drug court, and a county-funded program that has a social worker/certified mediator meet with divorcing couples who are having difficulty over child custody. “People come in,” Fine said of the latter program, “and she’s been able to resolve 80 to 90 percent of the problems right on the spot. That takes zero judge time.” Most circuits similarly have a variety of specialized programs, many with non-state funds, to meet unique local needs that might not be funded, not because of a tight budget but because the legislature might not even notice them, he said. “My worry is not that there is a budget cut; it’s more that we’re going to be below their radar screen on things that if they knew about, they would fund, even with a budget cut,” Fine said. “We’re rooted a lot deeper into the community than just adjudicating cases. The legal system is a lot more involved than even people who work in it everyday are aware of. We have all of these little specialized programs. They’re not just do-good things, they serve important social needs.” Aside from direct reductions that could come in court funding, Fine said some cuts to other state agencies have affected the courts. He noted the Department of Corrections has reduced the number of probation officers, which means that officers are no longer in every court. Consequently, he said, when a judge sentences a defendant to probation, an officer is not always there to immediately process that person. In some cases, the defendant has been ordered to report on his own to the probation office for processing. Judge Charles Mitchell, acting chief judge of the Fourth Circuit, said the hiring freeze had been implemented there, but the budget crisis had not otherwise affected court operations. Like Judges Fine and Ross, he was worried that the legislature’s cuts would hit support programs like the guardians ad litem or the drug court. “We are concerned about the support programs we have worked very hard over the years to get in place and work very well,” Mitchell said. “It’s very difficult to cut our budget because we cut programs if we do.” The situation may be even more critical for state attorneys and public defenders. Of their state budgets, 95 percent or so goes directly to salaries. “We have been affected,” said Third Circuit State Attorney Jerry Blair, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. “Our [association] Education Committee met last week and we have eliminated some seminars. “Virtually every state attorney office has implemented a policy limiting travel for training and other purposes,” he said. “For all intents and purposes, out-of-state travel has been eliminated by all of the offices.” Further cuts “are ultimately going to have to come out of dollars that were intended for salaries,” Blair added. “That will come either from furloughs or layoffs.” The timing, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, also couldn’t be worse, he said. “With all of the emphasis on public safety, I don’t think local law enforcement agencies will be cutting back on their activities. Most of these cases are going to be in the state system, and we’re going to be allocating fewer state resources to deal with them.” Babb, the Florida Public Defenders Association president, agreed. He said with U.S. attorneys offices likely devoting more time to anti-terrorism cases, other cases are likely to wind up in state courts. “We have 95 percent of our budget statewide in salaries,” he said. “And we anticipate if we have to take substantial cuts, we’ll have to tell people on our staffs, ‘Here’s the work and it’s increasing, but we don’t want you to come to work a couple days a month.’” Like state attorneys, public defenders have also cut training costs, and Babb said he’s concerned that, with ever more complex laws, there will be more errors that will lead to appellate courts ordering new trials. Another worry, Babb said, is last year, with Gov. Bush’s support, the legislature approved salary boosts for public defender and state attorney staff. That was important because of high attorney turnover as private sector pay rose and public sector compensation failed to keep pace. Those increases are scheduled to go into effect in January — unless they are cut as part of the budget crisis. Those incentives, Babb said, helped both recruit new attorneys and retain existing ones. “We are anticipating that if that is. . . withdrawn, the legal staffs in public service are going to see a mass exit,” he said. “And that affects public safety.” The crisis could also affect county governments. Babb said public defenders, if they have inadequate staff to provide competent representation, must withdraw from cases, with counties picking up the bill. That already happens in five circuits, he said, the most notable being Miami-Dade County which pays the salaries for 82 attorneys in the 11th Circuit Public Defender’s Office. “If everybody else is put into that situation, then counties are in somewhat of a predicament because these costs are unexpected and unbudgeted, and some counties are already at the cap in their millage,” Babb said. “How are they going to pay for this if they haven’t anticipated it was coming?” Babb has communicated these and other concerns to Bush in letters responding to requests to find savings. In an August 10 letter, he summarized the situation as: “Since this time last year, our workload has been increased by the certification and funding of 36 new judges, by more Jimmie Ryce cases, and by the 10-20-Life and prison release reoffender laws, just to mention a few of the factors. Our attorneys’ caseloads remain dangerously overloaded, but we were not granted any new positions last session. In short, because our work continues to grow along with the responsibilities attached thereto, we simply cannot identify budget cuts without compromising our ethical and professional responsibilities.”last_img read more

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Senior leaders preach ‘1-0’ mentality at Iowa

first_imgBEN CLASSON/Herald photoDisappointing is an understatement.After starting 0-3 in Big Ten play, an abundance of question marks currently surround the Wisconsin football team. But one thing is for sure: It desperately needs a victory Saturday.Following back-to-back home defeats, the Badgers (3-3) will head to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) tomorrow. And despite their unthinkable start, the Badgers — especially the seniors — haven’t forgotten their weekly philosophy.“This is really when you want to bring in the ‘1-0’ mentality,” senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “You need to forget about what you did in the past and look forward to what you have in front of you. If we keep looking back at what we did wrong and the teams we lost to, we’re going to get beat again because [Iowa is] good enough to do that to us.”“Being ‘1-0’ is something that we’ve got to live by and just try and take the rest of this six-game season and do what we can with it, which is win,” senior defensive tackle Jason Chapman echoed. “This is a situation we’re not used to, losing three games in a row. We’ve just got to have a positive mentality about the whole situation and just step forward.”To do that, this veteran-driven defense will have to make vast improvements after giving up 48 points to Penn State last weekend.“[We’ve got to] stay focused and execute,” Casillas said. “We have a lot of playmakers on our team, but we just don’t focus sometimes and we don’t execute. That equals big plays and third down conversions.”Many of which have come after halftime, as the Badgers have been outscored 74-16 in their last four second halves.“We’ve got to be sharper in the second half,” senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “In the first half, we’ve been pretty good overall this year, but come out in the second half and given up a lot of big plays, which have made up a lot of the yards, a lot of the points we’ve given up.”Once again, the UW defense will have its work cut out for it tomorrow.Iowa — UW head coach Bret Bielema’s alma mater — lost its first two conference games but found lightning in a bottle behind junior running back Shonn Greene, as the Hawkeyes put up 45 points against Indiana in a 45-9 blowout in Bloomington.Greene is currently second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, averaging 133.9 and finishing with 115 and a touchdown against the Hoosiers Saturday.“He’s a very physical back, a big guy,” Casillas said of Greene. “We look forward to playing against big backs like this. P.J. (Hill) is a big back, and I’ve been playing against him [in practice] for years. Playing against (Ohio State’s ‘Beanie’) Wells, you expect to play against guys like that in the Big Ten.”“We feel he’s a strong runner — he’s a good running back,” Chapman said. “He can create some things for them; he’s a real momentum swing for them, and he’s changed their running game a lot, so we’ve got to stop him and make things happen.”No matter who lines up against Wisconsin Saturday, the senior leaders are aware they need to step up their game if they want to turn things around.“We can’t beat ourselves. We’ve done that the past couple weeks,” Casillas said. “Penn State is a great team, but we let some things slip by, and we didn’t compete as much as we wanted to; we kind of self-destructed. If we keep doing that, we’re going to keep losing.”Since Bielema took over the UW head coaching position two years ago, the Badgers have had the Hawkeyes’ number, beating them once in Kinnick Stadium and once at home. Tomorrow, Wisconsin will try to make it three in a row. And after two tough losses in Madison, perhaps it’s a good thing the Badgers will be away from Camp Randall.“I love playing on the road in the Big Ten,” Casillas said. “All the stadiums are nice; all the crowds are ruthless and loud, just how I like it.”Regardless, Wisconsin is still hungry for its first conference victory.“I’m looking forward to a physical game,” Levy said. “There’s been some bad blood between us. I’m just looking forward to it.”Though it was simple, Chapman put it best: “It’s a big game. We’ve got to win.”last_img read more

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LOCAL CHARITY ASTOUNDED BY GENEROSITY OF YOUNG DONEGAL MAN

first_imgA Donegal charity has been overwhelmed by the generosity of one Donegal teenager who kindly donated money he had been saving to the organisation. Cara House Family Resource Centre are a fantastic local charity that are involved and immersed in a number of local initiatives.Cara House helps support and promote the importance of well-being of individuals and families in the locality.They provide this by engaging in a number of social, recreational and educational activities.Staff at the popular facility were left gobsmacked earlier today by the generosity of Donegal teenager Matthew Murray. Matthew had saved €118 – but instead of spending it on himself – he decided to donate his money to Cara House.He decided to donate it to Cara House when he was made aware of the projects and work they do at the resource centre.Well done Matthew. 🙂                     LOCAL CHARITY ASTOUNDED BY GENEROSITY OF YOUNG DONEGAL MAN was last modified: October 14th, 2015 by Mark ForkerShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Tags:Featuresnewslast_img read more

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