Good afternoon Senator Harp,
Representative Merrill and members of the Appropriations
Committee. My name is William J. Lavery and I am the Chief Court
Administrator. I come before you today to comment on the
Governor’s budget recommendations for the Judicial Branch for
the upcoming biennium and, most importantly, to ask for your
assistance in addressing critical staffing problems that
threaten our ability to meet the Judicial Branch’s statutory and
Let me begin by saying that I fully appreciate the
daunting task that Governor Rell and Secretary Genuario faced in
putting together a balanced budget proposal for the next
biennium and that I also recognize that the Judicial Branch
represents only a small fraction of the state’s overall budget.
I am also cognizant of the fact that while the Judicial Branch
is a co-equal branch of government, we are fully dependent on
the Executive and Legislative Branches for the funding needed to
run the Branch. It is with that partnership and interdependence
in mind that I will be asking for your help in significantly
bolstering funding for security and staffing in the courts.
The current biennium has been a
very difficult one for the Branch. A structural problem in our
Personal Services account has left us chronically short of funds
to support existing staff, let alone replace staff that leave
the Branch or bolster areas that demand additional resources.
In both years of the current
biennium, we have had to work with the Office of Policy and
Management to take extraordinary measures to release, transfer
and carry forward an assortment of funds to make up for this
structural shortfall. The Governor’s recommended budget appears
to alleviate much of the basic structural problem.
However, the recommended budget
does not address the need to add staff to reduce the chronic
shortages that plague the courts. These deficiencies are
reaching crisis proportions in many areas. Two weeks ago in
Hartford, 40 Part A criminal cases, the most serious criminal
matters before the courts, had to be rescheduled because there
were not enough Judicial Marshals to staff the courtrooms.
Staffing levels for core court
functions have been stagnant for ten years and in the case of
Judicial Marshals, there are actually 100 fewer Marshals than
there were in 2000 when the Branch took over courthouse security
from the now-defunct County Sheriffs. I welcome the opportunity
to assist the Executive and Legislative Branches in addressing
important state policy initiatives such as prison overcrowding
and juvenile justice reform. However, we cannot continue to
accept resources for these functions while failing to protect
the core functions of the courts.
My number one budget priority for
the Judicial Branch for the upcoming biennium is to increase
staffing for security and for the courts. To that end, I must
bring to the Committee’s attention a budget option that we
submitted to OPM for the upcoming biennium. The option would
provide funding and positions for 100 new Judicial Marshals and
77 additional court staff, including additional Court
Interpreters and clerical staff for clerk’s offices at a cost of
The courts are a bedrock
institution of our society. For justice to be served, everyone
coming to court - litigants, attorneys, staff, jurors, witnesses
and the public in general – must be safe and secure, whether in
court for a simple traffic matter or as a participant in a
serious criminal case.
Our goal is to provide the safest
and most secure setting possible, beginning with the design and
layout of our newest court facilities and including modern
technology to screen and monitor our buildings. Nevertheless,
the fundamental element in our security plan is a well-trained
and adequately staffed Judicial Marshal force.
Marshals have the responsibility
for securing courthouses, courtrooms and courthouse lock-ups
(including two 24-hour facilities), transporting prisoners, and
providing security at probation and support enforcement offices.
An OPM study that was conducted
several years ago determined that an appropriate level of
Marshal staffing was 1080. This number has never been achieved.
Our recent staffing analyses indicate that we require a minimum
of 920 Marshals statewide to effectively secure our facilities.
Today we have fewer than 800 Marshals. In truth, the typical
number of marshals available for work on a given day is actually
below 700 because of staff that are out-of-work on worker’s
compensation or out on approved sick and vacation leave.
Due to the staff shortages, large
numbers of courtrooms operate without Marshals, jeopardizing the
safety of the public, including witnesses, victims and jurors.
The shortages also mean that the public regularly encounters
delays in entering courthouses, and increased risk to families,
victims, and witnesses due to delays in prisoner transport. As I
noted earlier, unprecedented postponements of criminal matters
have been necessary due to an insufficient number of Marshals.
Probation offices often have no Marshal coverage because of the
lack of staff.
The highest level of staff
attrition in the Judicial Branch occurs in the Marshal ranks.
Many in the marshal service leave to take positions in state and
local law enforcement agencies and many take promotions to more
lucrative positions within the Branch such as juvenile and adult
probation officers. Based on attrition, at least two training
classes of new Marshals are required each year to maintain
current staffing levels. At least four classes per year are
needed to make any headway toward our staffing goal of 920.
The Branch’s FY07 budget, as well
as the recommended FY08 budget, only accommodate two classes per
year, and even those classes must be scheduled nine months apart
due to a lack of funding.
The shortage of Marshals cannot
continue. It jeopardizes everyone’s safety and is a clear and
present danger. I am respectfully requesting that the Committee
review the budget option that I have attached to this testimony
and provide the positions and funding for 100 additional
judicial marshals in FY08.
Coming into court can be
intimidating and confusing for anyone. For those persons who do
not speak English or have limited English proficiency, the
process is far more daunting. Court Interpreters play a vital
role in the court process for these individuals, and should be
available for anyone coming into court and needing language
Unfortunately, there is a severe
shortage of trained Court Interpreters at a time when demand for
the service has increased dramatically. There has been a 350
percent increase in requests for court-related interpretation
services since 2000, but at the same time, the number of
available full-time court interpreters has actually decreased,
from 34 in 2000 to 25 in 2006. Reliance on Temporary Court
Interpreters has grown as well, and we now employ approximately
35 Temporary Court Interpreters every week. To put that into
perspective, we operate 46 courthouses every day, plus an
additional 25 non-court locations such as support enforcement
and probation offices. The total number of full-time and
temporary Court Interpreters statewide is only 60.
Unavailability of sufficient
interpreter services negatively affects victims, families,
witnesses, and parties causing additional time and multiple
appearances in court and reliance on informal interpretation
through family members and friends, which can often be erroneous
or incomplete. As well, this unavailability results in the
Branch’s not meeting federal standards, which could jeopardize
grant funding to the state.
To begin to rectify this problem,
we need to increase the number of Court Interpreters as soon as
possible. I would respectfully ask the Committee to add 15 new
positions and associated funding to the Branch’s FY08 budget for
shortages in clerk’s offices
Clerk’s offices are the lifeblood
of the court system, receiving papers, assisting the public,
preparing court documents and entering and maintaining data on
all of the cases that come before the court. Additionally, other
judicial divisions (such as probation) and other agencies
(including DMV, the State Police, DOC, Mental Health and
Addiction Services, DCF, and the State’s Attorneys and Public
Defenders, among others) are totally dependent on the timely
availability of accurate data from clerks’ offices.
Unfortunately staffing in these
offices has suffered statewide due to a lack of funding, and
there are at least 70 essential vacancies that cannot be filled.
This causes delays in the entry of data, leading to increased
risk to victims of domestic violence, delays in processing of
seized property, denial or approval of employment based on
potentially inaccurate data, jeopardized public safety, longer
waits on processing of executions on judgments in small claims
and civil courts, delays in obtaining copies of documents like
certificates of dissolution, and delays in providing necessary
services and placements for juvenile offenders.
Existing staff simply cannot keep
up with the current workload. I have authorized paid overtime in
the evenings and on weekends to try to catch up on the backload
in clerk’s offices but this is an insufficient and inefficient
stop-gap measure at best. We need additional full-time staff as
soon as possible.
The situation has reached a point
where I have no choice but to curtail the hours that clerk’s
offices are open to the public as a means to catch-up. If
additional positions and funding cannot be provided, I have
directed my staff to begin to identify court locations that can
be closed and consolidated to obtain staffing efficiencies in
the next fiscal year. This will undoubtedly inconvenience the
public, as well as local authorities, staff and the bar, but I
see no other practical choice.
staff pay increases
I mentioned earlier in my
testimony that the Branch relies on a cadre of Temporary Court
Interpreters to supplement full-time staff. The use of temporary
staff is a widespread practice throughout the Branch, and in the
courts include the following positions in addition to the
Interpreters: Temporary Assistant Clerks, Temporary Court
Monitors and Temporary Paralegals. In Juvenile Detention there
is a high reliance on Temporary Juvenile Detention Officers,
Temporary Juvenile Detention Transportation Officers and
Temporary Food Service Coordinators. In total, we will spend
about $8.7 million in FY07 on temporary staff throughout the
All of these temporary positions
pay significantly less than their full–time counterparts,
between 43 percent and 80 percent of the current rate for
full-time staff, depending on the position. Overall, the rates
of pay for these employees, people who are vital to the daily
operation of the Branch, have not been increased for many years.
We submitted a budget option for
the upcoming biennium, which is not included in the recommended
budget, that would increase the rates of pay for these employees
to a uniform 80 percent of their full-time counterparts, at a
cost of about $2.5 million.
This pay increase is long
overdue, and would help us attract and retain needed staff,
especially in high cost areas such as Fairfield County. I have
attached a copy of our proposal to my written testimony and I
would ask the committee to give consideration to this important
The Governor’s Recommended Budget
contains a troubling proposal with respect to the position count
in the Judicial Branch. The proposed budget eliminates 130 of
the Branch’s existing 4226 positions. There are no budgetary
savings associated with this reduction, and I cannot offer a
rationale as to why it is being proposed.
In fact, the reduction is
contradictory to the agreement reached between the Executive and
Judicial Branches following the 2003 Early Retirement Incentive
Program (ERIP). This agreement recognized that as a co-equal
branch of government, the Judicial Branch must have the
flexibility to address staff needs that may arise.
Nevertheless, we recognize the
need to work with the Executive and Legislative Branches and
have remained committed to doing what we can to live within
The Branch presently carries
between 225-250 vacancies, representing about 5 percent of our
total position count. This number is two-thirds greater than it
was in 2003 prior to the ERIP. The current vacancy rate is a
reflection of our inability to meet the critical need for
additional staff that I have outlined above.
It is my hope that the Committee
will recognize that the proposed reduction in positions is
unwarranted and will not save any funds, and take action to
restore the positions to the Branch.
health and educational services for court-involved youth
Another important budget request
that we submitted, but that was not recommended, concerns
enhanced mental health and educational services for juveniles.
Presently, the court can order
various assessments for youth that come before the court, but
judicial staff struggle to interpret the clinical evaluations
and recommendations that are received. A portion of our request
would fund the creation of a new Clinical Coordinator position
that would help us evaluate children’s mental health needs more
efficiently, with quicker referrals to appropriate services and
a reduction in the need for expensive and time-consuming
evaluations at facilities such as the over-burdened Riverview
Also, many juveniles that come in
contact with the court have significant learning disabilities
and major gaps in their educational experience, which leave them
disconnected from their local school system. Behavior problems
in school are often the primary reason juveniles are referred to
For example, truancy accounts for
50 percent of all Families with Service Needs referrals, and a
staggering 89 percent of court-involved 16- and 17-year- olds
have been expelled or suspended from school. Our proposal is to
utilize Educational Advocates to protect the educational rights
of individual children and work with parents, probation officers
and the courts to ensure that appropriate testing and services
are available to children in the juvenile courts.
This is an important and
worthwhile investment in children at a cost of 11 positions and
$1.8 million. If successful, it will avoid far greater future
costs to the state.
In summary, although the
Governor’s Recommended Budget for the Judicial Branch
essentially provides funding for the status quo, it does not
recognize that in the case of the Branch, the status quo is
untenable. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the integrity
of the courts is in jeopardy because of a lack of staff. We are
at a crisis stage, and with a new biennium before us, we must
act to insure that courts can continue to meet their
constitutional and statutory responsibilities. The first and
most necessary step is to provide sufficient funding to add
staff to secure and operate our courts.
Thank you for the opportunity to
speak to you about these issues and I would be pleased to answer
any questions that you may have.