Court cuts will eliminate 2 local jobs

Published 12:21 am Thursday, July 21, 2011

At least two Circuit Clerk’s office employees are slated to lose their jobs come Oct. 1 because of the budget crisis in the state judicial system.

That announcement was made by District Judge Frank “Trippy” McG-uire, who spoke to members of the Andal-usia Lion’s Club Wednesday.

“I think the mind set is that (the state judicial system) is an agency like Medicaid or DHR,” McGuire said. “They weren’t paying attention in civics, if that’s the case. There are three branches of government – the legislative, the executive and the judicial. You can’t cut one of those heads off.”

The beginning of the new fiscal year will mark the second round of layoffs for the state court system. The first came after Gov. Robert Bentley declared across-the-board proration to balance the state’s General Fund budget.

In the spring, the county was spared the brunt of the layoffs, but even then Circuit Clerk Roger Powell said he knew his office would face cuts in October. (Powell was out of the office Wednesday and not available for comment.)

“Our case load is five times what it used to be,” McGuire said. “A lot of things contribute to that – divorce rates are up; morals are down; there’s a drug use epidemic.

“As you know the judicial system was drastically hit with reduced finances,” he said. “Earlier this year, 270 were laid off. Add to that another 279 are scheduled to be laid off Oct. 1, and you’re looking at a 25 percent reduction in the Alabama court system.

“Our clerk’s office is supposed to have 11 merit employees,” he said. “He has seven now. In October, two more will be cut.

“The wheels of justice grind slowly, but it will be a lot slower when these cuts happen,” he said.

As part of cost saving measures, all jury trials have been suspended to September and then will be held every other month. The option was also given to close local courthouses on Fridays to save money; however, it was “our opinion on that was it’s the people’s courthouse, and they need to have access to it,” McGuire said.

McGuire said jurors have also been asked to waive the fee and mileage usually paid for their service.

“In 2010, $134 million in fines and court costs were collected,” he said. “Of that, half went into the general fund. If the personnel that collects those monies are laid off, those collections will trickle down and we’ll be in worse shape.”