Court system in jeopardy, chief justice says
The core principle of equal justice in Minnesota "is very much in jeopardy" because of underfunding of the courts, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said in Rochester this morning at a legislative breakfast.
"The reason we have a government is to protect the people," Gildea said at the "Eggs and Issues" breakfast at the Doubletree Hotel, sponsored by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. "The courts are at the heart of that principle," and underfunding of the judicial branch in recent years has caused backlogs in processing cases statewide, she said.
Already the judicial system is "10 percent short of the people we need to do the work," or about 250 employees, and as the Legislature prepares to deal with the state's projected $6.2 billion budget shortfall, Gildea pleaded with the audience to push the issue with legislators "to hold the (judicial branch) harmless" in budget cuts.
Gildea, who became chief justice in July, held her hand to her forehead and said the court system is "under water" to that point now, but with any further cuts, "we're drowning." Republican Senate leaders have floated the notion of a roughly 15 percent to 20 percent cut in the judicial budget for the next biennium, or roughly 750 more jobs, court spokesman John Kostouros said today.
Four Republican legislators — Reps. Duane Quam and Mike Benson, and Sens. Dave Senjem and Carla Nelson — attended, as did DFL Rep. Tina Liebling. They took questions related to the Senate bill freezing school employee pay for two years, alternative tracks to teacher licensure and other issues.
On the school pay freeze, Nelson said she voted for it Thursday because it's a "job-saving bill" that she contends will save as many as 2,000 teaching jobs in the next two years. Quam said he "leans toward the side of local control" of school boards but that he might support such a bill when it moves through the House. Liebling called a state-ordered pay freeze "a very Big Brother action" that would take local control away from elected school board members.
About 125 people attended the event, the first of four the chamber will sponsor this session. The next will be at 7:30 a.m. March 11 at the Doubletree.