|Date: November 19, 2003||
Court Information Officer
Chief Justice Commends State Auditors; new Committee to examine needs and priorities
CONCORDSupreme Court Chief Justice David A. Brock said the performance report of the Judicial Branch released by state auditors today presents a balanced examination of the court system and provides court administrators with a framework for continued improvement in the fair and efficient administration of justice.
"We believe that this rigorous look at our operations has produced many valuable suggestions which we intend to consider," Brock said about the audit, which was conducted for state lawmakers by the Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant.
Following presentation of the report to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, Brock announced that the Supreme Court has established a new "Committee on Justice System Needs and Priorities," chaired by Manchester lawyer Bruce W. Felmly, to consider the current level of court services and expected needs over the next five years. The committee will be composed of key leaders working in the state justice system, including Attorney General Peter W. Heed. They will work over the next several months to formulate strategies and make recommendations to the judicial branch for meeting challenges in the future.
"Our expectation is that this committee will provide important guidance to our administrative judges and court managers that will enhance our overall operations now and in the future," Brock said.
In commenting on the audit report, the Chief Justice noted that the judicial branch agreed, in whole or in part, with 44 of the 48 observations and recommendations made by the auditors. He noted that some of the audit findings, including increased case backlogs in the states 65 trial courts, supported the need for increased funding for the judicial branch.
"There are many excellent suggestions in the audit report. But our dedicated staff is already making an extraordinary effort to keep up with the current workload and we cannot ask them to do more without adequate resources," Brock said.
The audit pointed out that judicial branch spending increased by 20 percent over the six-year audit period, while overall state spending increased by 29 percent. If the judicial branch had kept pace with overall state spending, the appropriation for the court system in FY 2004 would have included an additional $4 million.
Associate Justice Linda S. Dalianis, who appeared before the Legislative Fiscal Committee today with LBA Audit Division Director Catherine Provencher, thanked Provencher and her staff for their even-handed approach to the process. "Our exchanges with the auditors were productive. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with them and I think our discussions were mutually beneficial," Dalianis said.
The audit took almost two years to complete and during most of that time, the auditors worked in the offices at the Administrative Office of the Courts. The Chief Justice, who commended the auditors for their highly professional approach to the project, also thanked AOC director Donald D. Goodnow, and Judicial Branch General Counsel Howard J. Zibel, for the extensive effort they made to provide the auditors with information about the judicial branch and responses to their observations.
In a letter to members of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, the Supreme Court said "we welcome the opportunity to give every one of those recommendations thorough and thoughtful consideration as we plan how best to use the scarce resources appropriated to the judicial branch." The letter is included in Appendix A of the audit report.
"The New Hampshire Supreme Court is committed to careful scrutiny of each of the auditors recommendations and to a process of continuous improvement in order to ensure that New Hampshire citizens enjoy the best possible access to dispute resolution services," the court said in its letter to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.
"Some of the many recommendations that depend upon additional resources will surely find their way into our budget request for the next biennium," the letter said.
The complete LBA audit and appendices is available at www.gencourt.state.nh.us/lba/indexbudget.html.