J.A.I.L. News Journal
December 22, 2008
A Public Service Announcement to
(To be removed from this PSA see
The Battle Lines are Drawn:
J.A.I.L. versus The Foreign Power
A Power Foreign to Our Constitution
America Facing a Judicial Meltdown
Supreme Chief Justice John Broderick
of New Hampshire says, "I've never
felt as insecure about the state
courts in terms of operations and
resources as I do now." "The court
process is breaking down," says
David Slawsky. "This is the worst
I've ever seen it," says John
The United States, the prison
capitol of the world, may have to
cut back on its prison growth
~ ~ ~
Even jury hiring is frozen
To cut costs, New Hampshire courts
won't hold criminal or civil jury
trials for a month. At least 19
other states have slashed court
budgets and other state services.
By Bob Drogin
December 22, 2008
Reporting from Brentwood, N.H. --
Come February, the red-brick
Rockingham County Courthouse, one of
New Hampshire's busiest, will
arraign criminal suspects, process
legal motions and otherwise deal
with murders, mayhem and contract
disputes. What it won't do is hold
The economic storm has come to this:
Justice is being delayed or
disrupted in state courtrooms across
Full coverage: Financial crisis
Financially strapped New Hampshire
has become a poster child for the
problem. Among other cost-cutting
measures, state courts will halt for
a month all civil and criminal jury
trials early next year to save
$73,000 in jurors' per diems.
Officials warn they may add another
"It brings our system almost to a
screeching halt," said county
prosecutor James M. Reams. His aides
are scrambling to reschedule 77
criminal trials that were on the
"All the effort to subpoena
witnesses and prepare for those
trials is right out the window,"
Reams said, frustration in his
voice. "Internally, it's a
monumental waste of time. We'll have
to redo everything."
At least 19 other states, including
California, have slashed court
budgets and other government
services as their economies have
tanked, said Daniel Hall, vice
president of the National Center for
State Courts, a nonprofit in
"Courts are there to provide a fair
and impartial resolution of
disputes," Hall said. "When you
start affecting that, you affect who
California cut its judicial branch
budget by more than $200 million, or
about 10%, in the current fiscal
year, and further reductions are
almost certain as the state grapples
with a projected $40-billion
deficit. A Republican proposal
unveiled last week, for example,
would trim a further $205 million
from the judiciary.
H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's finance
department, said it was "not yet
clear" whether the judiciary would
be granted an exemption to the
governor's order to reduce state
payrolls by 10% through layoffs and
Criminal defendants have a
constitutional right to a speedy
trial. Judges usually give such
trials priority over civil cases
involving broken sidewalks, medical
malpractice and the like.
As a result, civil litigation and
family law cases are bearing the
brunt of the disruptions. And
cascading bankruptcies, foreclosures
and business disputes have only
increased the backlog.
After two rounds of budget cuts in
Florida, courts have laid off 280
clerks, lawyers and other staff
members, and cut funding for a
judges' unit that helps resolve
civil disputes. State legislators
meeting next month are expected to
demand more spending cuts.
An additional 10% reduction would
mean "all civil cases in the state
of Florida would virtually be
suspended," Belvin Perry Jr., chief
judge of Florida's 9th Judicial
Circuit and chairman of a trial
court budget commission, warned a
legislative committee in Tallahassee
In Vermont, state Supreme Court
Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber
recently proposed closing as many as
seven county courts, as well as
laying off employees, to help ease a
budget deficit. The state already
shuts district and family courts
half a day each week to save money.
"None of our choices are good,"
Reiber conceded in a memo to court
With rising joblessness and falling
revenues, New Hampshire projects a
budget deficit this year of $250
million. The crisis has forced Gov.
John Lynch to seek spending cuts
across state government, including
the judicial system.
John T. Broderick, chief justice of
the state Supreme Court, has carved
$2.7 million from the judicial
budget. In addition to the one-month
halt in jury trials and trimming
back courtroom security, seven of
the state's 59 judgeships will be
left vacant through June, when the
fiscal year ends. Three of the empty
slots are in trial courts.
Worse, Broderick said, he may need
to suspend jury trials for another
month, and leave open a Supreme
Court slot after one of the five
justices retires in February. It is
the state's only appellate court.
"In my 36 years here as a lawyer and
judge, I've never felt as insecure
about the state courts in terms of
operations and resources as I do
now," Broderick said.
Robert J. Lynn, chief justice of the
superior courts, which conduct all
New Hampshire jury trials, said he
fears the delays inevitably will
cause damage. "There is some element
of 'justice delayed, justice
denied,' no doubt about it," he
Christopher Keating, executive
director of the New Hampshire Public
Defender program, said his chief
concern now is "people in custody
who will endure delays in getting
their day in court."
The state Supreme Court threw out
two criminal cases this year because
trials did not begin within six
months of arraignment, the legal
limit. Prosecutors fear more cases
may be dismissed.
Delays in jury trials in 2001 and
2002, during a previous budget
crisis, caused less disruption
because they involved fewer cases,
said John Safford, Superior Court
clerk in the Hillsborough County
district that includes Manchester,
the largest city.
This time, he needs to reschedule up
to 100 trials.
"I've been here 30 years," he said.
"This is the worst I've ever seen
The delays may encourage some
defendants to seek plea deals, or
litigants to settle out of court.
Some counties are advocating
out-of-court mediation and conflict
But other cases may face new hurdles
as time passes.
"Witnesses die, memories fade;
things happen when trials are
delayed," said John Hutson, dean of
Franklin Pierce Law Center, the
state's only law school. "Then
you'll get a bow wave of cases, so
they pile up the next month and it's
hard to catch up."
The slowdown has unnerved many
residents in the state, where
granite-hewn courthouses often
anchor Colonial-era town squares.
"You're talking about erosion of our
fundamental civic fabric," said
Ellen J. Shemitz, executive director
of the New Hampshire Assn. for
Justice, which represents civil
James J. Tenn Jr., incoming
president of the state's bar
association, said that as the crisis
has grown, New Hampshire courts have
been slow to process orders, respond
to lawyers' requests and "do the
"We've just seen delay after delay
after delay," said David Slawsky, a
civil lawyer in Manchester. "The
court process is breaking down."
Dennis Ducharme, a Manchester
attorney, received cancellation
notices last week for four personal
injury cases scheduled for trial
next year. He worries that a delay
of six months, perhaps longer, will
make witnesses less willing to
"The longer you drag it out, the
more reluctant people become to
cooperate," he said.
In Newport, in the rural west,
lawyer Lisa Wellman-Ally has seen a
property rights trial postponed four
times. Each time, she has prepared
100 exhibits, re-subpoenaed
witnesses, refreshed her arguments
and billed her client for the time.
"Then we would get bounced again,"
No new trial date has been
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