2010 State of the Judiciary Messages



Marsha K Ternus 2010

Archive of full State of the Judiciary addresses

It's that time of year when chief justices present their annual state-of-the-judiciary addresses, reports, letters, etc., to their state legislatures.

It isn't difficult to guess the main theme of their 2010 messages: the weak economy and court budgets. Almost every topic discussed, such as court technology, is driven by budgetary concerns and the desire to improve efficiency (that is, to save money).

Here's a sample.

Alabama Idaho

Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb addresses "three basic but important messages": the court and state government funding crisis; courts doing "more with less"; and "fundamental changes" to make courts more efficient. She cites a "myriad of efficiencies" the state's courts have used to increase "throughput," along with the use of technology, such as e-filing and electronic records, to improve efficiency, and she states that Alabama's court system may require "reorganization" (such as unified trial benches).

Of all the addresses mentioned here, Idaho's put the least emphasis on the state of the economy. Chief Justice Daniel T. Eismann says that the state of the judiciary is "excellent"; however, he does mention "tough economic times" and thanks the state legislature for their support to the state's court system. In particular, he stresses how the three branches of government "have worked together effectively to address difficult issues." He also cites the use of "new technology" to improve court efficiency.
Maine Missouri

Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley uses "precarious" to describe the state of Maine's judiciary. She says that there are no court programs left to "cut" and that the court system was already understaffed when the recession started. How the state court system is coping with the budget shortfall takes up the remainder of her remarks. Actions include using money saved from vacancies to improve security staffing; consolidating clerks' offices and unifying criminal dockets to improve efficiency; leveraging the purchasing power of the courts of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire for essential court services, such as interpreters and electronic research; and improving the courts' use of technology.

Chief Justice William Ray Price, Jr., stresses the sacrifices the state's courts have made (and will continue to make) to get through the current weak economy. He also discusses, at some length, how the state could save millions by reforming its sentencing policies for nonviolent offenders (to go from being "tough on crime" to "smart . . . on crime"). Reducing the use of incarceration for these offenders in favor of helping them to become more useful members of society would be in the best interests of the public, said Chief Justice Price.

Utah Washington

Chief Justice Christine Durham calls the weak economy a "challenge" for the judiciary to do better. She lays out what the Utah courts have done to become more efficient, such as switching entirely to an "electronic method for preserving the record in court"; instituting a "slowdown" in hiring, then a "freeze"; and planning for additional budget cuts later in the year.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen addresses the effect of the weak economy on Washington's courts immediately, stating how the state's courts handle "more than one filing for every three citizens" annually, while courthouses are "struggling" to keep their doors open and how valuable public services have been or may be eliminated. She makes one budget request--funding to improve the state's Judicial Information System, which will improve efficiency and reduce costs.