Date: August 1, 2003 Contact: Laura Kiernan
Court Information Officer
(603) 271-2646 x 359

 

NEWS ADVISORY

COURT SYSTEM ANNOUNCES MORE LAYOFFS, CUTBACKS

 

CONCORD—The New Hampshire Judicial Branch, faced with budget reductions and unprecedented spending restrictions, today laid off an additional 28 employees in the Supreme, Superior and Probate Courts, including two more lawyers at the Supreme Court, four lawyers who served as Superior Court deputy clerks and 22 clerical and secretarial workers in courthouses throughout the state.

"This is a heartbreaking day for our court family," Chief Justice David A. Brock said.

"I am so sorry, and very dismayed, that we have to disrupt the lives of hard working employees who devoted themselves to the administration of justice," Brock said. "This loss will be felt not just by us, but by our fellow citizens who come to our courthouses everyday seeking our help."

Since July 3, the legal and clerical staff in the Supreme, Superior and Probate Courts has been reduced by 15 percent or 43 positions so that the judicial branch stays within the limits of the Fiscal Year 2004 budget. Decisions about reduction in legal and clerical staff statewide were made with the intention of minimizing the impact of the cutbacks on service to the public.

The FY 2004 budget, as now written, for the first time eliminates the flexibility the judiciary has traditionally had to decide where spending reductions should be made within the court system. Instead, the legislature has mandated that 68 percent of the total budget reduction, or $3.7 million, be taken from the Supreme, Superior and Probate Courts. The staff reductions in those courts so far total $2.8 million in salaries and benefits. The FY 2004 court system budget, as approved by the House and Senate, totaled $57.5 million

The Supreme Court, which oversees administration of the judicial branch, also took action today to complete another $900,000 in cuts from the Supreme, Superior and Probate Courts’ budgets. The court announced today that the continuing education program for judges and court system support staff was virtually eliminated for a savings of $239,000. The judicial education office, which was part of the Supreme Court general counsel’s staff, will no longer be in operation and its employees have been laid off.

In total, 70 positions out of the 306 now authorized will now either remain vacant or be eliminated in the Supreme, Superior and Probate Courts.

Other budget cuts taken by the court system since July 1 include postponement of all employee merit increases and promotions for this budget quarter; a 30 percent cut in mileage reimbursement for judges and staff; layoff of 11 probationary employees and three transcriptionists; elimination of transcription payments for court stenographers; elimination of per diem judge time in probate court; three positions to be left vacant at the Supreme Court for lawyers who work as law clerks; suspension of criminal and civil jury trials in September and indefinite delay of the new appellate review process.

Court officials are continuing talks with leaders of the House and Senate about changes to the FY 2004 budget document that would lessen the impact on court staff and constituent services. Lawmakers are now working on a permanent budget document for the FY2004-2005 biennium.

"I am hopeful that these ongoing discussions with lawmakers will be helpful, and that we will be able to rescind a number of these layoff notices," the Chief Justice said. "However, we had to act now to control our spending and we also wanted our employees to have as much time as possible to confront this very sad news," Brock said.

Employees laid off today were given three weeks notice. Their last day of work will be August 21, 2003. Clerical layoffs were made on the basis of seniority. Professional staff positions were evaluated and layoff decisions were based on those jobs that had the least impact on constituent services and court operations.

The FY 2004 budget, as written by the legislature, protects the District Court system from any reduction in its staff. It also provides funds to fill 19 clerical jobs in District Courts around the state. Employees laid off from the Supreme, Superior and Probate Courts have been offered those clerical positions as well as two clerical positions in the Family Division pilot project, all based on seniority. Four probationary employees have been laid off from the District Court in order to make those positions available to more senior employees laid off in the three other levels of court.

The Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, Donald D. Goodnow, noted however that because of the geographical locations of some of those District Court jobs, and the nature of the positions, which are all clerical, some employees laid off today may not be interested in a job transfer. The salary for available clerical jobs ranges from $19,342 to $24, 686 per year.

A memo from the Administrative Office of the Courts regarding today’s layoffs, a chart on the reduction in staff positions in July and court orders carrying out the reductions are available at www.courts.state.nh.us/cio.