Summit County courts suffer more cuts
SUMMIT COUNTY – If you find yourself standing in a long line at the courthouse or, worse yet, see a local judge in his robe at Kinko’s making copies, don’t be surprised. Cutbacks forced by the state budget will leave Summit County’s courts short-handed, out of supplies and down one magistrate.
The Fifth Judicial District, which covers Eagle, Clear Creek and Lake counties, in addition to Summit, joins the rest of the state’s judicial branch in making a $12.7 million budget decrease. Administrators in the state’s 22 judicial districts will be expected to cut 320 jobs by the time the fiscal year begins July 1.
The Fifth Judicial District’s share of those cuts is a loss of 4.55 jobs, the elimination of one magistrate serving Summit and Eagle counties and the elimination of a $19,000 budget line-item that covers expenses for copiers, travel and phones, but more importantly, the courts’ law library.
“Fortunately, I had left that number of (clerk) positions vacant, knowing there were some potential layoffs,” said Chris Yuhas, Fifth Judicial District administrator. “But now I’m kind of scrambling to determine which books we won’t have. The judges have access to some electronic research, but there are some reference items that aren’t electronic.”
Beginning in October, courts were forced to scale back expenses to deal with a mounting budget shortfall in the state. Courts instituted mandatory furloughs for employees – one unpaid day off per month – and a hiring freeze left clerk positions unfilled. Locally, the court also began closing the clerks’ office for one hour at lunchtime to ensure no extraneous overtime costs were incurred.
In January, the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee recommended continuing furloughs for at least five more months. The Legislature also approved an increase in docket fees – the cost of filing cases and paperwork in the courts – from between 50 and 100 percent.
Local attorneys have spoken out against the forced changes as negatively affecting citizens’ access to justice in the courts.
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the lack of human resources likely will have a ripple effect throughout the system. Although the DA office’s caseload won’t change, the speed with which justice is dispatched could slow down. With the loss of Magistrate Hugh Warder, he said, juvenile cases and settlement conferences will have to shift to District Court, bogging down the docket there.
“The cuts are hitting everyone,” Hurlbert said, referring to his budget, which comes from the five counties he serves. “We’ve already had to let an investigator go and drop half an attorney.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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