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District court will be closed 4 days in April, May

Staff writer

The Eighth Judicial District Court, along with all other Kansas district courts, will be closed April 9, 16, 23, and May 7 as a money-saving measure, giving five employees unpaid furloughs.

“This year’s crisis occurred basically because of a mistake,” Chief Judge Michael F. Powers said.

Legislators unintentionally underfunded district courts, Powers said. The decrease in funding would have forced the courts to close for 30 days.

Upon discovering the error, legislative leaders promised to correct the mistake when they returned to Topeka.

In the mean time, courts made contingency plans to close if they had to. They also instituted a hiring freeze and laid off part-time and temporary employees.

When the legislature reconvened, lawmakers approved extra funding for the courts, reducing the required unpaid leave to four days.

Closing four days will be inconvenient, but it is the lesser of two evils.

“If we had to do the 30 days, it would have been a real, real problem,” Powers said.

All four closures will be Fridays, which are often “feast or famine,” he said. Fridays can be days with contested divorces and jury trials, or they can be days court staff catch up on paperwork.

One of the scheduled closures is the fourth day of a five-day jury trial. Jury members and lawyers won’t like the closure if the trial takes that long, Powers said.

The closure days will mostly be like a weekend day, he said. Judges will be available to issue warrants if needed, but trials and most hearings will be rescheduled.

The district court office, court services office, and judge’s administrative assistant will be affected by the furloughs.

Most of the state’s budget for district courts — 98 percent — is for salaries. That means that budget reductions require cutting personnel. Funds for paper, furniture, and other expenses are paid by counties, Powers said.

Marion County has been relatively fortunate. The court offices are at full staff except for one unfilled half-time position.

“I don’t think the public will see a dramatic difference,” Powers said.

Last modified March 31, 2010

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