HARTFORD, CT — Judicial Branch officials told members of the Appropriations Committee Monday that Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed Judicial Branch budget will jeopardize courthouse security and juvenile justice programs.
“Needless to say, the security of everyone who comes into our courthouses, the people who work there, the judges and especially the public, it’s an ongoing concern to provide adequate security for them,” Chief Court Administrator Judge Patrick Carroll III said.
Lamont’s proposed budget cut $25 million from Carroll’s $542 million request for the 2020 fiscal year and $33 million from his $562 million request in the 2021 fiscal year.
If the committee and Lamont’s office don’t work with the agency to replace some of the cuts including $6.5 million designated to hire and train new judicial marshals and update other security measures, security at the courthouses would be in jeopardy, Carroll said.
The branch recently underwent a security review which highlighted areas of concern, including the inability to hire and retain staff, Carroll said. “We have a chronic shortage of judicial marshals,” Carroll said.
Although in this fiscal year the agency has graduated five judicial marshal training programs, the 100 marshals will barely close the gap when compared to the number of marshals who are expected to retire in the same period, Carroll said.
“We’re looking at a net gain of 25 marshals after attrition,” Carroll said. He also said the agency is expected to lose 80 to 100 marshals by next summer.
“Creative ways need to be found to help bridge the gap between the 850 marshals we need and the 660 we have on hand,” Carroll said.
He used the example of a recent confrontation in a courtroom at Bridgeport Superior Court between family members of a man accused of murder and the victim’s family of how a lack of marshals is creating security concerns.
The three marshals in the courtroom were able to calm the emotional fracas by separating some of the individuals, he said. In the meantime, marshals from the metal detector at the doors to the courthouse, came running, leaving the entrance to the building unguarded.
“They did an excellent job, but it took 20 minutes to restore order,” Carroll said. Someone with a malicious intent could have walked in undetected during the time frame, he added. “We need to have more people to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
As part of the security upgrade, Carroll is proposing installing an electronic system at every courthouse that would automatically lock doors in the event of a similar melee or other issue. He also wants to hire one municipal or state police officer to be stationed at every courthouse to act as a deterrent.
Carroll pointed out that under state statute 4-73(g), the Judicial Branch is an independent branch of government and not a budgeted agency or department of the Executive Branch, so Lamont doesn’t have the authority to cut his budget request. He also acknowledged that the law didn’t stipulate that the Judicial Branch would receive its entire request.
“Simply because I request the money, doesn’t mean the Judicial Branch will get it,” he said. “But it does allow you (the committee) to see what I need and what I have asked for.”
The other area impacted by Lamont’s budget is juvenile justice programming, he said. The Judicial Branch was given the authority last year to implement new programming aimed at keeping kids out of the criminal system. Those kids previously fell under the Department of Children and Families, which shuttered the Connecticut Juvenile Training School.
But he noted that his branch was expected to provide the same type of programming without additional funding, while DCF received $50 million for serving the same population.
Without $11.7 million Carroll allotted for juvenile justice programming, the Judicial Branch won’t be able to “successfully implement” the responsibilities given to the agency to address delinquent youth.
Carroll asked for $28.7 million to deal with the transfer but was given $17 million in Lamont’s budget proposal. “To be clear, we cannot provide the intensive community-based secure programming this population requires with the amount of funding the Governor has recommended,” he said.
The Judicial Branch foreclosure mediation program would be allowed to “sunset” rather than continue under Lamont’s proposal, Carroll said. The program received 2,885 requests for mediation and completed 4,138 cases in 2018.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, asked what would happen to the current cases if the program was allowed to “sunset.” The cases would be moved to court and the residents would lose their homes, Carroll said.
“I think it’s a good program,” Winfield said. “I think the state of Connecticut benefits as a whole from it.”
The Appropriations Committee has until late April early May to offer up their own spending package.