Contact:  Sandy Adkins
Communications Specialist
National Center for State Courts
757.259.1515

 

State budget cuts threaten public’s access to courts

Williamsburg, Va. (Nov. 29, 2011) — The economic downturn has impacted state budgets so severely that in many states the public’s access to justice is being jeopardized, according to a recent survey by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

In the only survey of its kind, the results show that courts in 42 states have reduced their budgets considerably, 39 have suspended filling clerk vacancies, and courts in 34 states have laid off court staff. Most significantly, however, 23 state court systems have reduced court operating hours, forcing courtrooms to close their doors and limiting the public’s access to justice.  In courts across the country, the survey shows that these and other reductions are restricting the courts’ ability to handle civil cases in a timely manner. Civil cases include divorce, child custody, foreclosures, bankruptcy, personal injury, and more.

A Nov. 26 article in The New York Times titled "Critics Say Budget Cuts for Courts Risk Rights" highlights the impact reduced state court budgets are having on the public.

According to David Boies, co-chair of an American Bar Association commission to study state court budgets, justice is in jeopardy. "The justice system’s funding has been decreasing in constant dollars for at least two decades," Boies told The New York Times. "We are now at the point where funding failures are not merely causing inconvenience, annoyances and burdens; the current funding failures are resulting in the failure to deliver justice."

The NCSC survey, conducted from July to October, polled state courts about what measures have been taken to respond to budget reductions. The results are compiled in a state-by-state chart and narrative explaining the cutbacks.

 

The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.