Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2003 / 21 Elul, 5763
How budget cuts nationwide are starving many of the state courts and allowing some criminals to go free
In Oregon, the state did not have enough money to process minor criminal cases, meaning shoplifters and car thieves walked. The courts even closed altogether on Fridays for months.
A local Oregon paper quoted in the "National Law Journal" reports that an accused car thief stole five cars and was arrested and then released three times because the judicial system couldn't afford to provide him a lawyer. In Colorado, 13 percent of the state court jobs cut- meaning, fewer probation officers to monitor criminals out on parole. And long waits for everything from a divorce to cases that might keep companies from ripping off consumers.
In New Hampshire, the superior court system put off all jury trials for two months this summer. One felony case even dismissed because of budget cuts. In many California and Massachusetts counties, trial courts have significantly reduced their hours as well.
This is an outrage. There's a lot of finger pointing going on as to who's to blame. Bottom line, though, funding the court system has to be non-negotiable. We're building prisons every day now.
We may not have enough functioning judicial facilities to assure captured criminals are punished. Some states have survived by raising court fees. Others have avoided passing on the fiscal woes to the courts. I'd support imposing higher fining for filing frivolous lawsuits. Whatever it takes, but this is nuts. And it's time for all of us to say cut costs, raise revenue, do whatever it takes, but the courts must stay open at full force.
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