ASK ANY REPUBLICAN state senator this hypothetical question, If the foundation to your family’s home were crumbling, would you pay to fix it?, and I am certain nearly each person polled would answer, yes.
But ask a Republican state senator this real-life question, If Washington State’s judiciary badly needed funding to continue its proper functioning, would you allot sufficient funds from the state’s treasury to fix it?, and the consensus would be stubbornly, no!
Our judiciary is suffering and needs crucial funding. While the Democrats’ 2013-2015 Biennial Budget passed through the state’s House of Representatives fails to entirely cure our courts’ pain, the Republican’s Budget passed in the Senate offers no relief. In fact, it's bad medicine.
There are several judicial departments that requested funding from our Legislature. The Administrative Office of the Courts is a department created in 1957 by the Legislature, which operates under the direction of the state’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The office provides basic operating support to our judiciary and facilitates the public’s access to our courts. To keep our courts open and running, the office requested from the Legislature $21,251,000.
Not accounting for diverted funds, the Democrats’ budget provides a meager $6,200,000 to the office. The Republicans’ Budget, however, reduces the office’s overall budget by $1,629,000. Assuming the initial funds requested are required for its operation, the Republicans’ Budget would force the office to provide essential court services, both to the judicial department and the public, with $22,880,000 less than what is needed.
The Supreme Court, in addition, requested a meager $50,000 to help ease the burden of meeting its most basic operating expenses including telecommunication costs, printing and copying costs, and staff training, among other things. The House’s Budget allocates no additional funds to satisfy the Supreme Court’s request. By contrast, not only do the Republicans ignore the Supreme Court’s appeal entirely, their Budget actually cuts the Court’s funding by more than a half million dollars, $514,000 to be exact.
For the Court of Appeals – the intermediate appellate level between the trial courts and the state Supreme Court – the Republicans’ Budget is worse. In 2007, the US Marshal’s office surveyed the Division III appellate court building in Spokane. After its onsite inspection, the US Marshal concluded security improvements were needed.
To comply with the US Marshal’s recommendation, the appellate court requested $104,000 for security improvements. The Democrats’ Budget helps improve court safety and supplies those funds. By stark contrast, the Republican Budget reduces the Court of Appeals’ operating expenses by $1,139,000, which is more than 10 times the amount of funding requested.
From the state’s law library, which requested no additional funds, the Republican’s took $148,000 that would have otherwise been used to satisfy organizational expenses.
Perhaps most drastic is the Republicans’ treatment of Washington’s Office of Civil Legal Aid (a department created by law that passed with Democrat and Republican support). Without counsel, a party’s legal rights are often greatly disadvantaged. But there is no constitutional guarantee that a party be afforded legal counsel during all civil matters (as apposed to a criminal prosecution). Washington’s Office of Civil Legal Aid, created by state statute, is an independent judicial agency, which helps supply civil legal representation to people in Washington. The office, for example, expands legal help to those facing home foreclosure.
Toward that end, the department requested $2,337,000 to help replace prior federal and state budget reductions. The Democrats’ Budget denied the increase. But the Republicans went a step further: their Budget axes $3,002,000 from the department.
Republicans are quick to adopt the lofty, unrealistic position that our state’s financial affairs should be treated like a household’s checkbook. It's not unfair, therefore, to expect Republicans to address problems with our state’s judiciary – a bedrock institution necessary to the fair and proper functioning of our society – as they would their own homes’ foundation.
And yet, as shown by their 2013-2015 Biennial Senate Budget, the state Republicans’ fiscal dogma, which is so readily touted in the imaginary, is overlooked in actual practice. The Republicans’ Budget does not do our state justice.
Trent Latta is an attorney licensed in both Washington and California. He can be contacted at TrentLatta@gmail.com.