An announcement in Topeka Thursday revealed that, so far this year, the state court system’s $15.9 million budget shortfall has prompted judges from 18 counties to limit the hours of public access to the office of the clerk of district court.
The 18 counties are in addition to 15 counties that previously were granted Supreme Court permission to close early because of chronic understaffing. During the closed hours, clerk’s office employees focus on filing papers and making computer data entries for case events and actions.
The shortened hours of public access have been implemented to make up for the elimination of all funding for part-time temporary employees and vacancies left by a statewide hiring freeze.
Approximately 40 counties in Kansas have two or fewer employees in the clerk’s office when fully staffed.
All told, the Judicial Branch basic maintenance budget was reduced $15.9 million by the Legislature for the 2010 fiscal year that began July 1. This deficit can only be partially made up by the Legislature’s authorization of an increase of $10 per case filing, as well as an $830,000 federal stimulus grant. Other measures, such as the hiring freeze, eliminating use of retired judges to help with caseloads, and abolishing temporary employee hours will save an additional estimated $2.1.
But all of these measures will still leave the court system short an estimated $8 million for the current fiscal year, unless emergency supplemental funding is provided by the 2010 Legislature, something the governor and key legislators have said they support. The Supreme Court is preparing a contingency plan to close all courthouses in the state for up to four weeks if that becomes necessary.