Judicial Branch, State of New Hampshire
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JUDICIAL BRANCH INNOVATION COMMISSION ESTABLISHED
CONCORD, March 29 - The New Hampshire Supreme Court announced today that it has recruited state business and legislative leaders, as well as experts from the National Center for State Courts, to work with the Judicial Branch to identify changes needed to meet the increasing demand for court services while state resources are in severe decline.
"While the economy will no doubt improve, the harsh realities of recent economic events have sent a clear message that it would be imprudent to act as if no change were required to the management of the court system," Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. said in a letter to invited members of the new "Judicial Branch Innovation Commission." The Commission is expected to make recommendations to the Supreme Court by January 1, 2011.
The Commission will be chaired by Eric Herr of Bristol, a private sector business executive with 25 years of management and strategic planning experience at some of the country's major companies. Herr is the current chair of the New Hampshire Judicial Council, an independent state agency that is a forum for consideration of issues involving the administration of justice. He has worked closely with judges and court administrators on a variety of management issues and in 2006, he helped developed goals for a new Judicial Branch Strategic Plan.
The National Center for State Courts, located in Williamsburg, Va., is the nation's leading resource center for state courts. The center has worked with 10 states to help "re-engineer" court operations in the face of budget deficits, including changing court structure, jurisdiction and technology to save costs, improve efficiencies and maintain needed public services. Thomas M. Clarke, vice-president of the NCSC's Research and Technology Division, is a member of the New Hampshire commission.
In his letter to commissioners, Chief Justice Broderick, cited cost cutting measures and reductions already taken by the Judicial Branch including three unpaid furlough days, starting Friday April 2, for virtually all judges, all marital masters and all non-judicial staff, during which time the courts will be shut down. As many as 11 more unpaid furlough days may be needed to reduce the Judicial Branch budget by $3.1 million by June 30, 2011, as requested by Gov. Lynch.
That followed an earlier request –which the Judicial Branch met—to give back $2 million of its 2009 appropriation. In addition, to keep costs down, 59 court staff positions have been kept vacant—10 percent of the non-judicial workforce—which delays case processing.
In addition, in the District Court and Family Division, which handle 84 percent of all cases filed according to the most recent figures, court sessions have been reduced by 12 percent, the equivalent of 30 court days a year, in order to cut costs. Those courts handle a wide variety of issues including divorce, child custody, juvenile crime, small claims, landlord-tenant, traffic and domestic violence issues. More than 230,000 cases were filed in the Superior, District and Probate Courts and the Family Division in 2008, the most recent numbers available.
These reductions compromise the court system's ability to "fulfill our essential functions," Broderick said in his letter, Most recently, the Governor asked the Judicial Branch to propose a plan to cut another $7.1 million out the budget over the next 16 months, a prospect that Broderick has said would devastate court operations.
Following a separate move by the House budget writers to require $4.7 million in cuts to the Judicial Branch, on top of the $3.1 million in unpaid furloughs, Chief Justice Broderick and the administrative judges last Friday asked the Governor to delay filling 9 fulltime vacancies and 4 part-time vacancies, saving potential salary and benefit costs until the legislative budget process is completed and the impact of cuts on the court system is fully assessed.
With this background of ongoing economic distress and requests for dramatic budget cuts, Broderick said it seems clear that the state government, including the Judicial Branch, will be required to run on the same or less money for years to come.
"In short, we have no choice: The Judicial Branch can either continue down the path of incremental reductions in service or we can seek those innovations that will permit the courts to meet the needs of our Twenty-First Century constituents," the Chief Justice said in his letter to commissioners.
Members of the commission include judges, lawmakers, business leaders and experts from the National Center for State Courts. In addition to his work with the Judicial Council, the new chairman of the Innovation Commission, Eric Herr, led the "Courts as a Business" Committee of the NH Citizens Commission on the State Courts and has served a volunteer for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) which represents children's interest in welfare and juvenile court matters. In the private sector, he was President and Chief Operating Officer of Autodesk Inc and at Sun Microsystems, he served as vice-president of Finance and Planning. Currently, Herr is chairman of the board of WNS, a leading provider of global business process outsourcing based in India.