The Judicial Branch needs to hang on to nearly $8 million that Gov. Ned Lamont wants to cut from the agency’s budget, Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll told legislators Wednesday.
“This is untenable, certainly does not reflect our request, and will limit the options available to the Legislature to make appropriations as I will describe below,” Judge Carroll said in his prepared budget remarks to the Appropriations Committee. “The Judicial Branch recommends that these actions be eliminated.”
At the same time, Lamont is offering the Judicial Branch $38 million for fiscal years 2023 and 2024 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to provide extra cash to get rid of the backlog of cases from the pandemic and beef up some technology and provide more services to victims of crime.
But the Judicial Branch ARPA request list that Lamont funded didn’t include several significant projects including more money to allow probation officers to work closely with police and families to carefully track juvenile offenders, cybersecurity upgrades as more court proceedings move online and more money for clinicians working with youth.
The items that didn’t make the cut for ARPA funding totaled about $35 million over two years, including $3 million over two years to hire several information technology consultants to upgrade cybersecurity.
The Judicial Branch budget for fiscal year 2022 is $559 million. With Lamont’s additions, the budget would stand at $574 million for fiscal year 2023, officials said.
Lamont had initially announced that he would provide $2.5 million to help probation officers reduce recidivism among juveniles and adults. But the money never materialized in his budget, Carroll said. The Judicial Branch had requested $3.2 million in fiscal year 2023 and $3.2 million in fiscal year 2024 to pay adult and juvenile probation officers evening and weekend overtime which would allow them to provide intensive supervision for clients, which would in turn reduce recidivism and crime.
Lamont is looking to cut the Judicial Branch budget by $7.9 million with $6 million coming from the personal services budget that could be used to hire more staff as employees retire this year during what is being called the “Silver Tsunami” as the state’s pension plan changes. There are 1,002 Judicial Branch employees who would be eligible to retire in 2022, with 400 already announcing their intentions to leave by July 1, agency data showed.
The Judicial Branch is slated by Lamont to foot the bill for a $2 million statewide lapse, meaning all agencies should contribute by cutting a portion of their budget. The reality of this plan is that the Judicial Branch is being asked to fund $1.9 million of the $2 million lapse, Carroll said.
“The $1.9 million lapse should be eliminated because it is patently unfair,” Carroll said in the document.
Carroll explained to legislators that due to recent retirements, about 50% of the state’s judges have served on the bench five years or less. Experienced judges are retiring because it is in their economic best interest to retire rather than stay in their positions as appointed judges, Carroll said, “That’s a bad outcome,” Carroll said. “We’re losing some of our best judges.”
It would take an additional $2.2 million to give the judges a 5% increase in fiscal year 2023, Carroll said.
Non-competitive pay has also stymied the Judicial Branch’s ability to hire marshals, Carroll said. The state police and municipal police departments are offering more money, he said. That’s impacting the agency’s ability to provide adequate security at courthouses, Carroll said.
The transportation of inmates by Judicial marshals has also been impacted, he said. But that has been mitigated by the use of remote court proceedings, he said. “We still have two buildings closed due to a lack of marshals,” he said.