|Date: October 28, 2003||
Court Information Officer
COURT, LEGISLATIVE LEADERS MEET ON JUDICIAL BRANCH BUDGET
CONCORDLegislative approval earlier this fall of increased flexibility in the judicial branch budget has made it possible for the court system to fill 29 staff positions across the state in the Superior and Probate Courts, the Family Division Pilot Project and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the Supreme Court advised Senate and House leaders at a statehouse meeting today.
The legislature had previously appropriated funds necessary to fill 11 vacancies in the District Courts.
"The willingness of legislative leaders to work with us on our budget has already had a significant, positive impact on the level of court services we are able to deliver to New Hampshire citizens," Associate Justice Joseph P. Nadeau said after the meeting.
"All of us on the Supreme Court look forward to continuing a productive working relationship with lawmakers in the future," Nadeau said.
Nadeau and Associate Justice James E. Duggan met to discuss judicial branch administration and budget issues with Senate President Thomas R. Eaton, House Speaker Gene G. Chandler, Sen. Robert E. Clegg Jr. and State Rep. Michael D. Whalley. The discussions, which took place in the Senate Presidents office, are intended to maintain continuing communication between the two branches of government.
"A cooperative spirit among leaders of both branches is in the best interest of our state and the administration of justice," Nadeau said.
At todays meeting, the court noted that because of the increased flexibility provided by the legislature, Chief Justice David A. Brock was able to reach an agreement with Administrative Services Commissioner Donald S. Hill to use funds that had been earmarked in the court budget for facilities to hire court staff.
The Chief Justice and members of the court said today they wanted to thank Commissioner Hill for his cooperation and for his understanding that filling long vacant court staff positions is an urgent priority for the judicial branch.
Legislative changes in the judicial branch budget, approved by lawmakers in September and signed by Gov. Craig Benson, mean that the court system will now hire 14 additional clerical staff in the Superior Court, seven in the Probate Court, six in the Family Division Pilot Project, and two in the Administrative Office of the Courts.
No positions will be filled at this time in the Supreme Court, which currently has five vacancies. Because of the states tight fiscal constraints, 26 additional positions remain vacant in the Superior and Probate Courts, in the family division, and at the AOC.
The legislature appropriated $63.5 million to the judicial branch for FY 2004, and directed that the branch reduce that amount by $6 million. Without the flexibility provided by the legislature in the final budget, judicial branch administrators feared serious reductions in court staffing levels throughout the state.
The court is continuing to review its budget and expenses and will make adjustments as circumstances require. Budget reductions already implemented by the judicial branch include lowering mileage reimbursement for all employees including judges; a 50 percent reduction in funds for replacement and new equipment; cancellation of some maintenance contracts; reductions in expenses for the state law library, interpreters, employee injury prevention, transcription, records management, computerization and administration of the bar examination.