Supreme Court chief calls for more reliable judicial funding model, 23 new judges

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TOPEKA – Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert in a speech to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature on Tuesday proposed adopting a budget model for the judicial branch related to general state revenues rather than volatile court fee funds and requested state resources to add 13 district judges and 10 magistrate judges.

Luckert, who served as a judge or judge for nearly 30 years, expressed gratitude for the Legislative Assembly’s commitment to increase judges’ salaries by 5% in the current and upcoming fiscal years and in striving bring the salaries of each court employee to market rates. She commended state legislators for authorizing the hiring of additional judicial service officers to perform statutory duties assigned by the legislature.

“To say the improvement had a profound impact is an understatement,” said Luckert. “Your commitment has made employees feel valued. And, in turn, morale improved and resilience increased.

She recommended that the legislature end a budget model tied to fees paid by those engaged in the justice system. She said fluctuations in fee income caused staff problems as most of the state budget was spent on court workers. One solution would be to channel legal costs to the general state treasury and to integrate credits to the judicial branch as part of the routine budget process.

In addition, the chief justice said that a case study indicated that the judiciary needed 13 additional district judges, 10 district magistrate judges and staff to support these judges.

“New judge posts have not been added since 2008. Currently, the workload in some parts of the state far exceeds the judicial capacity and the need for more judges and staff is great,” said Luckert.

Kansas House President Ron Ryckman, a Republican from Olathe, has invited the chief justice to present a report on the state of the judiciary to the legislature. It happened on the same day Governor Laura Kelly was scheduled to deliver the State of State Address in the House chamber.

“Today will mark the first State Judiciary in the Chambers of the House by a female Chief Justice, and the first time in Kansas history that the State Judiciary and the Governor’s State Address of the State will be presented the same day in the chambers of the House. . It is a privilege that the three branches of government come together today to celebrate our state’s successes, analyze challenges and communicate priorities.

Luckert, appointed to the Supreme Court in 2002 by Republican Gov. Bill Graves, has served as chief justice since 2019. His tenure as chief coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed the lives of court staff and significantly altered the operation of Kansas courts.

It was another unprecedented year marked by process disruption and enormous uncertainty brought on by a global pandemic, ”she said.

The public health crisis has widened the expectations of ordinary consumers of the courts and the public for the adoption of more online services and court procedures, Luckert said.

In response, she said, the judiciary has leveraged grants to develop technology to modernize court operations. This included a successful pilot project integrating a cell phone app to answer questions about dealing with traffic citations, she said. Courts have adopted a web-based format that allows couples to apply for a marriage license online.

The forensic branch has secured computer hardware and software to increase remote conferencing for clerks, interpreters and court officials, she said. District courts have conducted all types of hearings remotely, unless constrained by constitutional protections. Courts of appeal have turned to remote pleadings.

“Online hearings have enabled many Kansans to attend court without needing to take a day off,” Luckert said. “This, in turn, benefits our business community. We have found that judicious use of this technology can facilitate access and reduce costs, often improving due process and procedural fairness.

The judiciary’s web portal has been used by people seeking protection from abuse orders. After six months of operation, she said, half of all protection orders were filed through the portal, Luckert said.

These applicants generally lack the assistance of a lawyer. And, because of their situation, they often find it difficult, even dangerous, to get to the courthouse. The portal alleviates these burdens, ”she said.

She said the pandemic had slowed the implementation of the judiciary’s transition to a case management system deployed in just 26 counties. Other counties will make the trip in June, she said.

In April, the chief justice said, a mental health summit will examine options for improving the justice system’s response to behavioral health issues for those in court. A special committee is working on a new approach to resolve landlord-tenant disputes, she said.

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