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Courts officials see flexibility as key to financing state's court system

CONCORD - The court system can live with the budget approved by the House last month if administrators are given flexibility to move money around, Senate budget writers were told Tuesday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis said the system has undergone significant staff reductions during the last two years and cannot provide the same level of services with any fewer employees.

Gov. Maggie Hassan's proposed budget includes two new circuit court judges that are essential, Dalianis said.

Asked about delays in civil cases by Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, Dalianis said that is the cost of the budget reductions for the courts over the past few years.

She noted there are now 13 full-time judicial vacancies and by the end of May three probate judges will be retiring. The court system also has seven part-time judicial vacancies in the restructured circuit court system.

Dalianis said the court system is processing about 80 percent of the cases compared to the ideal. "Yes, there are delays," she said, "but we are not seeing a particular problem."

When a delay is noted in one of the courts, resources are directed to try to ease the problem, she noted, saying they are managing the situation.

Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court System Edwin Kelly said there are monthly reports by each court location so when there is a problem judges are moved around to address it.

The court system requested $75.8 million in general funds for fiscal year 2014 and $78.2 million for 2015, which Hassan provided in her proposed budget and then asked the court to cut by $4.5 million in each fiscal year.

Dalianis said the House did much the same but asked for an additional $300,000 cut each year.

For the current fiscal year the court system budget is $70 million. With the adjustments, the courts would receive $71 million in fiscal 2014 and $73.4 million in 2015.

If lawmakers give the court system more flexibility to move money around, four critical areas not funded in the budget could be maintained, Dalianis said.

Those areas are training and education for employees, which they will need to transition to the new e-court system, she said, superior court jury funding, the law library, and per diem judges in the circuit counts.

She said if House Bill 648 passes the Senate next week, which allows some marital masters to remain beyond the end of their terms, then the money for per diem judges will not be needed.

The Senate Finance Committee is working on its version of the $11 billion state operating budget set to go into effect July 1 and hopes to complete work by June 1.


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