Chief justice to speak out in Duluth against cuts
Imagine a shoplifter not being arrested because a police officer knows the thief won't be prosecuted. Maybe the officer arrests the shoplifter anyway, but the prosecutor doesn't have time to file the charge. The prosecutor might file the charge, ...
Imagine a shoplifter not being arrested because a police officer knows the thief won't be prosecuted.
Maybe the officer arrests the shoplifter anyway, but the prosecutor doesn't have time to file the charge.
The prosecutor might file the charge, but the defendant is forced to wait for his day in court, perhaps even while in jail, because there are more serious crimes that have to be dealt with first.
That's how grim things could get for the Minnesota justice system if it has to take any more cuts, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said during a phone interview this morning.
The chief justice, St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford, Northeastern Minnesota Chief Public Defender Fred Friedman and St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman are holding a news conference Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth to express their concerns about the impact of additional funding cuts to the justice system.
They are all part of "The Coalition to Preserve Minnesota's Justice System," which is made up of representatives of the courts, prosecution, public defense, civil legal services and law enforcement and others was formed last fall at the suggestion of Magnuson.
"Our goal is to unite to carry a message to the Legislature, the governor and the people about the need to preserve the justice system," Magnuson said. "We have limited financial resources right now in the state and everybody is under a ton of pressure. When you don't have enough money to go around, you have to start making some choices and they'll be hard choices."
The court system has a $19 million shortfall before this current crisis. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has asked all branches of state government to give him an idea of what their operations will look like if they have to take a 10 percent budget cut.
It would look bleak for the justice system, Magnuson said. The court system has a hiring freeze and is operating 9 percent short-staffed. An additional 10 percent funding cut for the next biennium would require laying off 500 state court employees, he said.
"You have to prioritize," Magnuson said. "Article One, Section One of the state Constitution says that the object of government is to provide for the security, benefit and protection of the people. You do that by enacting laws and enforcing the laws. If you have a justice system that doesn't work, then you fail in that first Constitutional obligation."
There are 51 types of cases handled in Minnesota courts, and with further cuts the state will have to stop handling 21 of them. Worthless check cases, traffic and ordinance violations, juvenile truancy, underage drinking and property-related crimes might not be processed by the justice system during the next two years if a 10 percent budget cut is imposed, Magnuson said.
Litman said he believes officers will continue to enforce the law, but any further state budget cuts will hinder justice for all and create more budget problems.
"There's a great likelihood with additional cuts to the state court system that the average stay of an inmate -- not only in the St. Louis County Jail, but in all jails across the state -- will increase [at a cost of about $100 a day per inmate.] The court system will not be able to adequately process these pre-trial defendants and move these cases through the system in a timely manner. And the fact of the matter with a lot of these folks there hasn't been a determination of guilt. The defendants would likely just sit there for a longer period of time."