Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina's top judge says the judicial system has done its part since the Great Recession to make do with less, but now it's time legislators provide more resources and improved pay within the state's courthouses.
Chief Justice Mark Martin asked lawmakers for $30 million, adding that he is asking for the bare minimum – no more and no less – of what is needed to staff the judicial branch.
Martin, who was elected to his current post in November, made the plea Wednesday while giving his State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the General Assembly. It's the first time since 2001 a chief justice has given such a speech.
Martin told the audience - which included Gov. Pat McCrory - the court system is making financial and efficiency improvements through the use of video technology and specialized courts for military veterans and for family disputes. But he said the operations budget faces tremendous stress, and the judicial branch is understaffed by more than 530 positions.
"Our dedicated Judicial Branch staff has picked up the slack from these vacancies, while their own families’ finances are still feeling the strain of economic hardship," Martin said.
According to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, the judicial branch's operating budget has been reduced 41.4 percent and its work force more than 10 percent over the last six years.
About 1 cent of every tax dollar is spent on the courts, and about 93 percent of the court system's current $464 million budget compensates for personnel.
"By way of illustration, one county’s annual budget for the public school system in Fiscal Year 2014-15 is nearly $1.5 billion. The entire justice system budget, for all 100 counties, is only $464 million," he said. "This means that the entire Judicial Branch budget is less than one-third of the Wake County Public School System’s budget."
The lack of staff, Martin says, creates a backlog of cases, which can lead to charges being reduced or dropped in criminal courts.
"We all know that justice delayed is justice denied, and we are confronting a situation where the justice system is unable to promptly serve those who turn to us for help," he said.