The financial crisis and subsequent fallout has been widely publicized, and now the effects are beginning to reverberate in courts across the country.  In many jurisdictions deep cuts to state budgets have led to layoffs, furlough days, vacant judicial positions, and even courthouse closings.  These cuts threaten one of the pillars of the American justice system—the right to a fair and speedy trial.  Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) took the unusual step of publicly criticizing Governor Deval Patrick after he approved a budget which the Court says will force them to close courthouses and lay off staff.  Roderick L. Ireland, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and Robert A. Mulligan, Chief Justice for Administration and Management, remarked that the new budget will jeopardize defendants’ Constitutional right to a speedy trial, and undermine the quality of courthouse services. According to the SJC and Mulligan, Massachusetts courts have lost over 1,100 employees in recent years and more than 60 percent of the courts are staffed below the level necessary to ensure the prompt delivery of justice.

Meanwhile in California, all courts are currently closed one day a month as a cost-saving measure. At least 19 of 580 Los Angeles County courtrooms were closed and as many as 50 more are to be closed by September. In San Francisco, 200 Superior Court employees, more than 40% of the staff, will be laid off on September 30, and many courtrooms are to be closed by October 3.

Significantly, in California, the law gives priority to criminal cases, so nearly all the shuttered courtrooms will be those currently devoted to civil cases.  It remains to be seen what impact this will have on litigation in California, but it is likely that many plaintiff’s firm will begin “venue shopping” for counties least affected by the cuts.

Below are several other examples of budget cuts which are likely to have an adverse impact on the courts in various states:

  • New Hampshire- As many as 11 more furlough days over the remainder of 2011.  Court staffs have been cut by 10% over the past year.
  • New Jersey- $25 million budget cuts, modernization of court houses state wide put on hold.
  • Minnesota- Hiring freeze in effect, judicial positions left vacant. Court hours were cut, and judicial districts consolidated.
  • Florida- Hiring freeze and layoffs of court employees. Pay cuts for judges and other elected officials.

We will continue to monitor budget cuts nationwide and follow up with a report once the practical impact of these cuts on civil litigation are known.