Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Senate would expand NC court funding

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory’s campaign for more state support for the court system had a good day Tuesday when the Senate unveiled its proposed $20 billion budget for next year. The bill proposes a $43 million increase for courts with a significant increase in personnel. That boosts the courts budget by about 10.5 percent, from about $408 million to $451 million.
The bill calls for:
-- Eighty new victim witness/legal assistants, 60 assistant prosecutors and 15 investigators, at a cost of $10.5 million.
-- Three hundred new deputy clerk positions for Superior and Districtcourts, at a cost of $11.2 million.
-- Forty-two new magistrates, at a cost of $1.8 million.
-- Ten new District Court judges, at a cost of $1.4 million.
-- Seventeen new District Court judicial assistants, at a cost of $759,000.
-- Eight new family court staffers to expand family courts into two new judicial districts, at cost of $522,000.
-- Twelve new guardian ad litem positions, at a cost of $1.1 million, to replace expiring federal grant funds.
-- Thirteen and three-quarters new positions for drug treatment courts staff in nine districts, at a cost of $834,000.
-- Six new Superior Court judicial assistants, at a cost of $261,000.
These recommendations in the Senate bill ought to gladden the heart of the mayor, who made two visits to the legislature this spring, including one on April 11 when he met with Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, the leader of the state Senate, as well as others. During or right after that meeting, Basnight and Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, reached an agreement in principle that any increase in court costs would go back into the courts system for new personnel.
Clodfelter had arranged such a solution two years earlier, he says, but the budget writers in 2005 used the increase in receipts for other purposes.
Tuesday, Basnight gave Clodfelter and Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg, credit for pushing the courts funding through the Senate.
Here’s the text of the blog entry I posted back in April, after McCrory’s second visit:
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory was back in Raleigh Tuesday to meet with Senate leaders and the Mecklenburg delegation in his campaign to get more funding for the courts system. While the meeting didn’t result in a solution, Basnight and Sen. Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte worked out the basis for additional funding for the courts.
Clodfelter is in a good position to work on this issue. He’s vice-chairman of the Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary I Committee dealing with civil law. Word is that Basnight and Clodfelter are looking at an increase in court costs to produce more revenue for courtroom resources.
Mayor McCrory has pressed the legislature to boost court funding for a number of urban areas that have heavy criminal calendars in the courts and need more law enforcement resources. The legislature last year boosted court funding significantly, with the support of Gov. Mike Easley.
Clodfelter backed that expansion and is supporting more, though he has been careful to point out that an examination of caseloads and resources in the state’s largest judicial districts does not support the notion that only a few places have special court needs. It’s a statewide problem, and Mecklenburg fares well in some areas and not in other areas of court resources.
The legislature’s Fiscal Research Division points out that in 2005, Mecklenburg was just 5 percent larger in population than Wake, but had 40 percent more magistrates than Wake. The third largest district was Guilford, which is two-thirds the size of Wake, but which had one-third more magistrates than Wake.
On the other hand, Mecklenburg and Guilford both had “significantly more criminal cases filed in Superior Court than Wake, 40 percent and 25 percent respectively,” the analysis noted. And while Wake had 10 percent more traffic infractions than Mecklenburg, the latter had more than 50 percent more juvenile petitions to handle.

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