Supreme Court Urges Merger with Superior Court

Repealing a 2007 law codifying the division between the Supreme and Superior Court would cut duplicative expenses for the courts, which have seen reduced funding and need more money than was budgeted for 2014, according to testimony from Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge during budget hearings Friday.

"The judicial branch does not need a Supreme Court administrator and a Superior Court administrator … . Nor does the judiciary need a Supreme Court CFO and a Superior Court CFO, or a Supreme Court human resources manager and a Superior Court human resources manager, or Supreme Court procurement manager and a Superior Court procurement manager,” Hodge said.

“There is also no benefit gained from having a Supreme Court chief marshal and a Superior Court chief marshall," he said, going on to list half a dozen more duplicative positions and contracts.

The Supreme Court contracted the National Center for State Courts to assess the court system and the NCSC draft study found between $1.5 and $1.8 million in "duplicative wasteful spending every year," he said.

"Unfortunately until the Legislature repeals Act No. 6965, [Act. 6965], the Supreme Court and the Superior Court have no choice but to continue to engage in this sort of statutorily mandated unnecessary, wasteful spending," he said.

Several senators expressed support for the potential change. Majority Leader Donald Cole said legislation had been sponsored in the past by Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and another from Sen. Louis Hill and Ronald Russell, but not enacted.

Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, a member of the minority caucus, said he would also be likely support legislation to consolidate the courts under a single administration.

Hodge presented the Supreme Court’s budget request of $7.8 million – some $2.2 million more than the sum recommended in the governor’s proposed budget.

"I recognized that this request is greater than the ($5.7 million) appropriated for Fiscal Year 2013, which is the same amount recommended by the governor for our Fiscal Year 2014 appropriation. Simply put, a $5.7 million annual appropriation is not adequate to run an appellate court, let alone continue to build a new court from the ground up," Hodge said.

Showing charts of past years’ budgets, Hodge said Supreme Court appropriations declined for each of the past four fiscal years.

"The Supreme Court has consistently identified $7.5 million as an adequate appropriation to fund its needs," Hodge said. In FY10, the Legislature came close, appropriating $6.9 million, but the appropriations have declined since then, he said.

The budget request includes $4.1 million for wages and salaries; $1.3 million for employer contributions to Social Security, Medicare and pension benefits. Another $1.1 million is for services other than personnel; $1 million for all other operating expenses; $280,000 for equipment; and $23,000 to fund the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

No votes were taken at the information gathering budget hearing.

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