SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Can Illinois really afford continued budget cuts that threaten to close courtroom doors as they have in other states?
That is a central question posed by Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride of the Illinois Supreme Court in an article in the November issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, the monthly magazine of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA).
Chief Justice Kilbride said he believes most Illinois citizens would be astonished to learn that the judicial branch “survives on one-half of 1 percent of the entire state budget.”
“Certainly as stewards of public funds, our courts must be frugal,” Kilbride wrote. “And, just as certainly, there are ways we can save money in the judicial branch. But, to put it bluntly, the budget problems in Illinois can never be fixed by the continuous slashing of our court budget. We plead with our two coequal branches to provide essential funding for our court system.”
The current fiscal year appropriation for the Illinois Supreme Court is $61 million less than it requested, $6.5 million less than its 2012 appropriation and more than $10 million less than its 2009 appropriation.
Funds for probation services have been hit particularly hard — even though adequately funded probation services could provide a net income benefit to the state, Kilbride wrote.
“Continuing to impose substantial cuts may well wreak havoc with the Illinois courts’ ability to conduct business,” Kilbride explained. “If left unresolved, budgetary shortfalls could threaten the justice system as a whole, as has occurred in many other states where courthouses were simply shuttered and criminal defendants were sometimes released due to speedy-trial violations.”
In Illinois, Kilbride notes that courts in Cook, Madison, Champaign, Sangamon, DuPage, Ogle and St. Clair counties have all ordered furlough days or layoffs over the last few years to save money.
He concluded: “We must remind everyone that the administration of justice is not a luxury to be cut in hard times but a core function of our democracy.”
The 33,000-member ISBA, with offices in Springfield and Chicago, provides professional services to Illinois lawyers, and education and services to the public. For the complete article, visit http://www.isba.org/ibj/2012/11/thehighpriceoflowfunding.
From the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2012, issue