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Governor’s budget heavy on new judges

first_img Governor’s budget heavy on new judges But very little else sought by the courts and related agencies is in the gubnatorial fiscal plan Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Gov. Jeb Bush’s proposed 2005-06 budget for the court system and related agencies is a mixed bag.On one hand, Bush recommended full funding for all 110 new judgeships certified by the Florida Supreme Court this year. On the other, very little else sought by the courts and related agencies is in the gubernatorial fiscal plan — including no new employees for public defenders, capital collateral regional counsels, guardians ad litem, and only five more for state attorneys.The governor’s budget also does not contain any funds for the Civil Legal Assistance Act, a program that helps fund legal aid programs that assist families with legal problems.“We’re less than pleased with his recommendations,” said Second Circuit State Attorney Willie Meggs, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. “And we don’t understand it. The number of crimes is going up. You check with law enforcement. . . they’re getting new people.“We’ll just do more with less.”Overall, the governor’s budget gave public defenders $164.7 million and kept the number of employees the same at 2,705.25. Similarly, public defender appellate operations got $13.2 million, with the number of employees there remaining at 180.75.For state attorneys, Bush suggested a budget of $335.3 million, although the total number of employees would increase from 5,714.25 to 5,719.25.For the courts, Bush recommended a total budget of $399.2 million. That includes more than $9 million for 67 new circuit judges and 41 new county court judges, along with a judicial assistant for each, to be phased in during the year.According to the justification included in the budget, “The additional judges will help ensure full judicial access for Florida’s citizens. The certified need for judges includes: Two judges for the district courts of appeal, 41 county judges, and 67 judges for the circuit courts, along with the necessary support positions. This issue provides funding for 34 judges effective November 2005, 45 judges effective March 2006, and 31 judges effective June 2006, to ensure sufficient time for the application and appointment process.”But other than some capital improvements, little else requested by the courts was included in Bush’s proposed spending plan.Likewise, the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels and the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office had requested staffing and funding increases but didn’t get them in the budget.Meggs and Fifth Circuit Public Defender Skip Babb, president of the Florida Public Defender Association, expressed disappointment with the governor’s budget, but noted legislators can and do make adjustments to the spending plan.“We’re going to have a public relations campaign to convince those people who are in charge of the money that we really need some help,” Babb said. “We are beginning to stagger with the mandatory sentencing laws and the lock ’em up philosophy we have now.”Both Babb and Meggs said many of the proposed new judges would be assigned to handle criminal cases, which will lead to a demand for more prosecutors and public defenders to staff those courts.“If you don’t have a [new] public defender, that means we have to double our caseload. We’ve got to cover that court. We have to take all the cases that are going there and give them to a lawyer who already has too many cases,” Babb said.Meggs said cities, counties, and the state are typically adding more law enforcement officers; new judges are being supported; and more prisons are being built. Yet, he said, prosecutors and public defenders aren’t getting more people to handle the rising workload.Both Meggs and Babb said low pay continues to be an issue, with both offices plagued by experienced lawyers leaving for better-paying jobs in the private sector.“There are like 1,800 assistant state attorneys in Florida and 1,100 of them left — over the past five years — in the first five years [of their employment],” Meggs said. “About the time we get someone trained and proficient at what they’re doing, they get another job.”He said that also means that less experienced prosecutors and defenders have to be thrown into more complex cases to take up the slack. Over and over, Meggs and Babb said, they hear the same story: The prosecutor or public defender enjoys the work, wants to stay, but can’t afford the low salary with a family, house payments, and a law school loan to repay.“It is the people of Florida who lost a good prosecutor,” Meggs added.It wasn’t just more people the two offices wanted. In December Meggs told a Senate committee that the prosecutors needed $19 million in additional funds for pay equity and staff pay raises. None of that was in the governor’s budget. Public defenders had similar requests.Charlotte Jerrett, director of administrative services for the Office of the State Courts Administrator, said other than the new judges, the courts got little of what they asked for.Among the requests from the courts, and the governor’s corresponding recommendations, were:• Six more employees for the Supreme Court, primarily for the Inspector General’s Office and for security, and 10 more for OSCA, mostly to keep up with Art. V, Revision 7 implementation issues. None were included in Bush’s budget.• $4.9 million for capital improvements to the Supreme Court, including roof repairs and security improvements, plus another $1 million for routine maintenance and upkeep. Bush recommended $2.5 million. DCAs had requested about $800,000 for various projects, including replacing the air conditioning at the Third DCA. None was in the governor’s budget.• $1.8 million for insurance for judges, similar to other elected officials. Currently judges must pay the employee share for coverage in the state plan. That was not included in the suggested budget.• $6.5 million to hire 95 new law clerks for circuit judges to bring the ratio of one clerk per three judges to one clerk for every two judges, plus another 33 clerks if the new 67 proposed circuit judges were approved. No new clerks were included in Bush’s budget.• $7 million to continue transitions related to court reporting and the Revision 7 takeover by the state of most trial court funding. Jerrett said about half of that was to start buying digital reporting equipment. None was included by Bush.• Restoring $2.5 million in “salary lapse” funds, the lack of which has required the courts to hire new personnel at the minimum possible wage, which has made it hard to hire experienced employees.• $1 million to pick up the costs of leased equipment when the state takes over equipment from the counties as part of the Revision 7 changes. No money was budgeted for that.The CCRCs had requested four new attorneys and one investigator total for the south and central regional offices, noting that more death penalties were being upheld on appeal and increased their workloads. The governor’s budget had no new positions and cut about $45,000 from their $7.3 million budget.Likewise, the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office, which now provides assistance to about half the children in the dependancy courts, has hoped to expand on that number with a larger staff, asking for $4.3 million in additional funds — beyond the total current budget of $22.3 million — to move closer to 100 percent representation. But Bush proposed maintaining the current 378.5 employees, with a $22.6 million budget. Governor’s budget heavy on new judges February 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular Newslast_img read more

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