Circuit Court of Appeals

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as seen, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Atlanta. 

(The Center Square) – Proposed budget cuts could cause delays in Georgia's judicial system, representatives for the state's courts told lawmakers Monday.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Judicial Subcommittee heard presentations from juvenile and business courts, the supreme court and the court of appeals about their plans to reduced spending by 14 percent in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

"While the cuts being requested are a terrible burden on my court's ability to function and those individuals who will lose their livelihood that work there with us, the impact on the state and the people who live and do business here is much more profound if its court system is crippled," Court of Appeals Judge Sara Doyle said.

State agencies were directed to trim their fiscal 2021 budgets by 14 percent to make up for $3.6 billion in lost revenue caused by the response to the COVID-19 health crisis. State agency representatives started meeting with appropriations subcommittees last week to review potential cuts. Budget writers have until June 30 to finalize the budget before the new fiscal year begins.

Doyle said Monday she understands this is an "extraordinary time," as the state tries to recover from the economic downturn caused by response to the pandemic.

The Court of Appeals would have to lay off between nine to 18 employees, furlough remaining employees for 22 days and cut its budget for office supplies, books and other research tools by 25 percent to reach its 14 percent in savings.

"This end result is an appellate court that can't fully function or won't fully function," Doyle said. "We won't be able to intake and process the cases and issue our opinions within our constitutional deadlines."

The Superior Court could face problems handling its caseload and growing backlog with its proposed cuts, said Charles Miller, budget analyst for the Council for Superior Court Judges.

In hopes of preserving staff, Miller presented two proposals to subcommittee members, which include 36 furlough days for staff and trimming administrative cost by $335,000. 

Lawmakers would have to pick between cutting 69 law clerk positions or directing supreme court judges to take 40 furlough days.

Judge Walter W. Davis of Georgia State-wide Business Court said the court would hold off hiring a judicial staff member, a deputy clerk and a document clerk to meet the budget requirement.

On the other hand, the juvenile court system has had a surplus in family drug treatment grants for the past two years. Therefore, the Council of Juvenile Court Judges can slash the allotment by $128,549, accounting for most of its 14 percent reduction. The council plans to save another $156,000 by reducing travel and eliminating two full-time vacant positions.

The subcommittee also heard budget presentations from the Department of Law, the Public Defenders Council and district attorneys. 

Although all of the state's agencies, including the executive and legislative offices, have to submit budget reduction proposals, some may not end up with 14 percent reductions, said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, co-chairman of the subcommittee. 

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.