State/Local Funding

  • The Montana Judiciary is a state funded system. 
  • The state pays for the Appellate Courts and the Administrative Office of the Courts and for the salaries of trial court judges, support staff and clerical staff.  The state pays for technology equipment and operating expenses for the courts.   Local courthouses and equipment are paid by local funding bodies.

State Revenue and Appropriations

  • Montana’s total state and federal grant appropriation is $38 million in FY13.  The state general fund appropriation is $35 million, an increase of 1% to 4% over FY12.  The percent of the state general fund appropriation allocated to the Judiciary is less than 2%.
  • Over the past four years, funding for technology has been level.
  • The budget situation in the next three years is likely to improve.

Funding Principles for Judicial Administration

  • The Judicial Branch presents the Judiciary’s budget request directly to the Legislative body without prior approval by the Executive Branch.  The Executive Branch is not obligated to fund Judicial Branch priorities within the Governor’s balanced budget.  However, proposals that are not funded still move forward to the Legislature.  For practical purposes, however, it is best to have proposals included in the Executive Branch’s balanced budget
  • The Judicial Branch has budget authority to manage and administer appropriated funds without restrictions of detailed budget line items.  However, some line items, including drug court funding, juvenile delinquency intervention programs funding and pro se program funding are earmarked at the request of the Judicial Branch.
  • The FY13 budget does not enable the courts to provide and enhance necessary technology to meet the demands of the public.  The 2013 Legislative proposal includes a large technology package.  Staffing has remained flat resulting in unmet needs in the trial courts.  E-filing is a time and cost saver for courts and litigants but can only be done with an increase in IT staff.  In addition, creating data exchanges with the Executive Branch departments (i.e., law enforcement, traffic records, and vital statistics) requires additional staff resources.
  • The introduction of technologies has enabled the courts and others to provide and receive enhanced court services.  Self-help services have improved with automated forms and mobile self-help centers.  Smartcop technology combined with court technology has enabled electronic ticket transactions at the limited jurisdiction court level.  On-line ticket payment has enhanced customer service and decreased demands at the limited jurisdiction court level.

Steps Taken to Address Tough Economic Times

Staffing Levels and Operating Expenses: 

  • Over the past four years, the number of judges has increased 9% and the number of trial court staff has increased 10%.  The number of central office staff and the amount spent on trial court operating expenses has remained the same.
  • In the coming year, the number of judges, staff persons and the amount spent on trial court operating expenses will remain the same.

Compensation:  Over the past four years, the Montana courts have frozen the salaries of court staff and will continue to do so in this coming year.

Service Reductions: 

  • Over the past four years, the Montana courts have delayed filling vacancies in judicial support positions and will continue to do so in this coming year.  In addition, they have authorized the voluntary reduction in hours by staff and have had long periods of vacancy savings for youth court probation staff. 
  • These service reductions have resulted in reduced service to the public and increased delays and backlogs.

Efficiency Measures:    

  • In the coming year, the Montana courts plan to implement e-filing.  The Montana courts have already implemented and will continue to implement electronic workflow, e-payment of fines and fees and a virtual self-help center.  The Montana courts have enabled law enforcement to issue e-citations. 
  • Montana has a robust video network for judges, witnesses, litigants and attorneys.  The use of the video network reduces travel time and costs, especially important in a state the size of Montana.

Business Processes:  The Montana courts have implemented an enhanced caseflow management program and have created a statewide fine schedule for petty misdemeanors.  They have transitioned to digital recording of court proceedings.  They are videoconferencing arraignments of incarcerated defendants and detention hearings of detained juveniles and conducting remote videoconferencing of interpreters for persons with limited English proficiency.   In the coming year, they plan to implement in-court updating for docket entries and for orders.

The Montana courts are in a better position than in FY09 to provide access and timely justice.  While the budget has suffered, Montana has added three judges and two standing masters to the five most overwhelmed judicial districts.  In addition, Montana has developed a case processing "dashboard" for judges, staff and clerks, which creates a visual look at the caseload and timeliness.

Reports and Articles

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