Judges under fire over furloughs
Lawmakers Tuesday questioned why the Supreme Court rejected the idea of furloughs other state workers have been forced to take.
Chief Justice Michael Douglas told the joint Senate/Assembly subcommittee reviewing his budgets their understanding was that furloughs were “an option, not a mandatory situation.”
“My recollection is I don’t necessarily remember it being an option,” said subcommittee chairman Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.
Douglas said they decided instead not to give their employees salary increases and to make cuts in their budgets matching the total savings the furloughs would have generated.
“Had we imposed an additional furlough on our employees, that would have been unreasonable. We would have been giving twice,” said Douglas.
Deanna Bjork, budget manager for the courts, said they made a total of $2.76 million in permanent reductions to meet the governor’s request they pare the judiciary’s budgets back to fiscal 2007 levels.
“There’s an issue of equity here,” said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, agreeing with Denis. “I would hope you understand it’s very difficult to tell one group of state employees you have to do one thing and another group of employees another thing.”
Bjork said the biggest problem facing the judicial branch’s budgets is declining administrative assessment revenues. Those are the fees added on to a laundry list of misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and felonies. The biggest source of that fee revenue is the numerous fees tacked on to traffic citations.
Altogether, administrative assessments make up nearly two-thirds of the judiciary’s more than $60 million biennial budget. She and Douglas told lawmakers there are several factors affecting the revenue including the $5 the 26th special session of the Legislature decided to rake off the top of every fine and fee collected by the courts.
Another factor, she said, is that two courts in Southern Nevada were closed for a week in December, collecting no fines and fees to support the judicial branch.
Other factors, according to Douglas, include more financially strapped people convicted of minor offenses opting for community service instead of paying a fine and simply fewer police officers on the streets writing tickets.
Bjork said administrative assessments are lagging behind projections for this fiscal year and she has been forced to project a 5 percent decline from what was collected in fiscal 2010.
While the money available to the courts is declining, Douglas said there is no sign the caseload will do so. He said the complexity of the cases coming to the court continue to rise. With staff either static or being reduced, he said that means longer times to decide cases.
“The one thing that’s not talked about is we want to do it right,” he said.
Douglas pointed to the complex water cases and medical cases from such things as the Hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada .
“Each one takes the time it takes,” he said. “We want to do it right, not just do it fast.”