The Great Recession must not claim the judicial branch as another one of its victims.
In Topeka, Kan., the City Council repealed local law that makes domestic violence illegal. According to the New York Times, the reason for the repeal was that the court system could not afford to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence. Topeka’s district attorney’s office has seen a 10 percent cut in funding, and Topeka is not alone – state court systems are suffering budget cuts across the country.
According to CBS News, at least 34 states have cut their court budgets this year. If we let crimes accumulate untried, it will damage the integrity of our justice system.
Foreclosures have been clogging Florida’s legal system, with hundreds of thousands of cases left to be resolved, according to turks.us. This comes with a $72 million shortfall in the court budget to begin this year, due to reduced foreclosure filing fees.
According to the Miami Herald, Gov. Rick Scott approved a $45.6 million loan to the Florida court system Tuesday to aid with the gigantic budget deficit. When the loan comes due June 30, 2012, the budget shortfall will be $159 million. It would be unsurprising if the governor announced layoffs of employees as well, given his attitude toward cutting the Florida state budget.
Fewer employees will certainly slow the legal process, and less funding may mean Florida cities may be forced to make drastic decisions, la Topeka. Low-level prosecutors in Miami-Dade County regularly handle 350 cases at a time already, according to the ABA Journal. Adding heavier workloads onto fewer employees would cause enormous strain on the court system and its employees.
There have to be cuts in the government budgets, and it would be unfair to entirely exclude the judicial system – if it was working well. But it is not working well; it’s rather dysfunctional. It is imperative the state Legislature finds ways to increase funding for the court system.
People lose faith in their judicial institutions when divorces can’t be filed, lawsuit filings are delayed repeatedly or everyday domestic violence offenses can’t be handled. These budget cuts will bring apathy to mainstream American society.
If the deterioration of the judicial system is not stopped, Americans will lose respect for both the laws and the judicial process that are failing to protect and provide justice to them. Against a background of growing protests in urban centers, the last thing the U.S. needs is less respect for the law.