by Christian Stegmaier
Since last fall, lawmakers and state budget officials had cut funding to the judiciary by almost $7.4 million. These cuts were in addition to the $1.68 million reduction in funding by the General Assembly for FY 09. The Legislature as well eliminated $2.55 million in one time funding for operation expenses including travel. All of these reductions will now mean the following as a temporary measure:
– Judges’ travel will be eliminated as much as possible.
– Law clerks will not be reimbursed for travel when their judges do travel.
– Judges’ office expense allowances will be cut in half.
– Staff vacancies will not be filled until an amount of time equal to the payout of annual leave has passed.
– Vacant positions or newly vacated positions cannot be filled without approval.
– Additionally, funds that had been reserved for technology, building repairs and renovation, and program development will be allocated elsewhere to make up the significant shortfall.
As difficult as these measures are for Judicial Department personnel, these changes will potentially also have significant ramifications for litigants and their counsel. Obviously, when departing staff will not be replaced and essential personnel like law clerks have their duties reduced, a slowdown in the handling and disposition of the caseload may likely occur.
Further, the State Constitution created our judical circuits. Historically, our trial judges have rotated through the circuits on a routine basis. There is a benefit to both the bench and bar by having this rotation. That benefit is obviously eliminated if the circuit judges are unable to travel.
We have hope upon hope the budget situation for the Judicial Department improves exponentially in 2009 so that the administration of justice in South Carolina returns to a state of normalcy and the strides in technology can continue.