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Justice Delayed? Report says NC Courts Hampered by Budget Cuts

PHOTO: The gavel seems to have come down on the budget of North Carolina courts in recent years, with 638 positions eliminated in the last four years. Photo courtesy of Texas Southern University.

PHOTO: The gavel seems to have come down on the budget of North Carolina courts in recent years, with 638 positions eliminated in the last four years. Photo courtesy of Texas Southern University.


January 21, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina courts are being asked to do more with less and some are concerned about how it's affecting the justice system in the Tar Heel State.

For one thing, citizens expecting swift justice in state and local courtrooms may have to wait longer for it. For the last four years, state lawmakers have been nipping away at the court system budget, eliminating more than 630 positions of judges, clerks, interpreters, and other justice system workers. According to the annual report of the North Carolina courts released this month, cuts to the judicial branch budget have totaled more than $38 million dollars, just in the last year.

Sharon McCloskey, courts and law reporter for N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, explains the effects the cuts are having.

"It has these real-world impacts on people. When you cut clerks and you cut magistrates, it has real-world impact on people in the court system and how long it takes them to get their day in court."

McCloskey also points out that, as in other states, the judicial system is funded like an agency. In North Carolina, most agencies have sustained budget cuts of at least 10 percent in recent years.

Even some constitutionally-mandated services are now not funded in state courts, such as interpreters and compensation for jurors and witnesses. The system is also unable to add positions based on increased workload in places like family courts. McCloskey says those working in the judicial system are concerned about the effect it's ultimately having on justice for residents of the state.

"People are vulnerable, and people are there expecting what we all expect, and that is justice - only it seems to be taking longer."

The North Carolina Courts Annual Report also says less than one percent of the fines and fees collected by the courts stay within the court system. Most of the money is distributed to citizens, counties and other state agencies.

View the full report at nccourts.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC