Belt tightening by the Kentucky Judicial Branch means local courts and court offices will be shuttered Monday for the first of three scheduled furlough days.
Other state workers have been furloughed in recent years, but according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the move to shut down Kentucky’s judicial system to balance the branch’s budget is unprecedented in the modern history of the court system.
The next two furlough days are scheduled for Sept. 4 and Oct. 15. Judicial centers in Mercer, Garrard and Lincoln counties will be closed entirely, while all court offices in the Boyle County Courthouse will be closed but county government functions will be remain open.
The move will impact everything from regular court dockets to issuing and renewal of driver’s licenses, which is a function of the circuit court clerk. Circuit clerks and their deputies say it is more than a minor inconvenience with court dockets already bursting at the seams.
“It’s going to backlog the court schedule,” said Missy Kelty, deputy circuit clerk in Mercer County. “That means we’ve got to double up on other days, and Monday is an arraignment date.”
Boyle Circuit Clerk Joni Terry said Juvenile Family Court typically held on Monday is always a full schedule, but many of those cases will be combined with a future docket. In Garrard County, Circuit Clerk Dana Hensley said Mondays are district court days.
It also is not lost on circuit clerks how much of a financial hit their staffs will take by losing pay for three days in three months time. Employees cannot use compensation time, vacation days or any other kind accumulated paid time off.
“We’ve all been talking about it,” Kelty said. “Most people these days live paycheck to paycheck. Being thankful to still have a job is how I try to look at it.”
The furloughs are part of across-the-board cuts by the Kentucky General Assembly during the last biennial budget session. According to the AOC, the court system will have about $25 million less in funding available in 2013.
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton Jr., who acts as head of the state judicial system, said in an editorial last week that the budget cuts are “hollowing out” the court system. He cited staff cuts of nearly 300 employees, eliminated programs such as family drug courts, and judicial positions left vacant as examples of measures already taken to reign in costs.
“The toll of underfunded courts is more than three days of customer inconvenience,” Minton wrote. “Growing caseloads and declining budgets diminish the ability of the courts to swiftly and efficiently mete out justice. Whether it is the state attempting to bring a criminal to justice, or a private citizen renewing a driver’s license or seeking the judgment of a court in a child custody case or a business dispute, the courts are there to protect a person’s fundamental rights under the law.”
What to expect on furlough days according to the Administrative Office of the Courts: