Court services will be unavailable Monday as state judicial employees are placed on their third of three furlough days this year.
Employees also took unpaid furlough days Aug. 6 and Sept. 4, measures that Kentucky Judicial Branch officials hope can trim operating costs without resorting to layoffs or eliminating court programs at justice centers across the state.
Nonelected court personnel will not be at work Monday across all branches of the judicial system, including circuit and district courts, the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Kentucky Supreme Court, circuit court clerk’s offices, drug court, court interpreting services, court designated worker programs and other services.
Driver’s licenses will not be issued Monday, trials and other court proceedings will not be scheduled and deputy clerks will not be available to process bonds or issue release orders.
Also, no pretrial services staff will work on furlough days, and pretrial officers will not be required to interview a defendant within 12 hours of incarceration.
The furlough days are part of a budget reduction plan in which the state’s judicial budget was slashed by $25.2 million for the current fiscal year, which lasts until June 30.
“Scarce resources is the new normal,” said Chief Justice John Minton of the Kentucky Supreme Court. “There is less money for state courts, so we have to figure out what we need to do going forward to be a leaner, more efficient system.”
Minton, who serves as the state court system’s administrative leader, said furlough days are seen as a “stopgap” measure in which each furlough day could result in about $500,000 of savings.
“Furlough days are very much a stopgap action. They don’t solve long term the problems we’re facing,” Minton said. “We’re trying to avoid layoffs in the judicial branch by using furlough days.”
Budget reductions in the past four years have resulted in the loss of more than 280 judicial employees through either layoffs or not filling positions vacated through retirement.
Kentucky is one of several states in which recent budget cutbacks have resulted in disruptions in the justice system.
State judicial employees in Oregon have been furloughed for five days this year and will have another three furlough days next year. Court employees in Kansas were subject to five furlough days this year, although four of them were canceled after the state legislature appropriated funding to keep the courts open on those days.
“The difficult thing is it really punishes the deputy clerks when times are extremely tight,” Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said. “Losing a paid day is extremely difficult. It’s a day out of court on a Monday, which is usually our busiest court date. It’s a delay in our court calendar that costs the county money and delays cases.”
Minton said the early indications are that the savings realized from furlough days have met expectations, but concerns remain about the effect of budget cuts on the quality of service in the court system.
“All of those (measures) have allowed us to operate the system, but at a reduced service level unfortunately to Kentucky,” Minton said.
At the beginning of next year, the state Supreme Court and leadership from the Administrative Office of the Courts will meet to determine what further steps may be necessary to help balance the state’s judiciary budget.
Among the ideas that could be discussed are increasing technology’s role in providing judicial services, and the more drastic step of redrawing the boundaries of judicial circuits to correspond with shifts in population and caseloads.
“Some of the courts around the country in response to budget reductions have had to undertake employee layoffs, and we’ve done that some here, but we were hoping to avoid having to do that in Kentucky on a broader scale,” Minton said. “I don’t know whether we’ll be able to continue to avoid layoffs. I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I am concerned.”