Combined court facility facing more cuts

The same people whose cases fill court dockets could be asked to help boost the system financially in the face of potentially crippling budget cuts.

But when and if the state Legislature would consider a request that could pump an additional $9 million into Colorado's court system through new filing fees is anybody's guess.

All 14th Judicial District officials know for sure is that the next few months will likely be painful.

"We could not function anywhere near the levels we are now," Evan Herman, administrator for the 14th Judicial District, which includes Moffat and Routt counties, said Monday.

Herman attended a meeting of statewide court officials in Denver Friday on how to respond to Gov. Bill Owens' call for Colorado agencies to slash spending by 6 percent for next year.

"An additional 6 percent cut to our FY 03 budget would require the (Colorado Judicial) Branch to layoff approximately 500 people effective Jan. 1, 2003," Mary J. Mullarkey, Colorado Supreme Court chief justice, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 15 addressed to the state Legislature's joint budget committee.

The cuts would result in the vacancies of 1 in 3 non-judge positions within the state's judicial system by the summer of 2003, delaying criminal cases sometimes beyond speedy trial deadlines, Mullarkey wrote.

The chief justice proposes in the same letter to raise court-filing fees in response.

"A fifty percent increase in filing fee rates would bring Colorado's fees on par with other states and generate nearly $9 million," the letter states.

Mullarkey's letter does not specify which filling fees would be raised.

Several court officials suspect the increases would apply to civil cases only, which would make cases, such as divorces, more expensive.

"It's the best of bad alternatives," Herman said.

As with current situations, those financially qualifying residents unable to afford the court costs could have those fees waived by a judge, Herman noted.

But still, nothing concrete from the state, aside from Owens' stated goal, has been announced, leaving Diana Meyer and her staff at the Moffat County Combined Courts in pretty much the same position they were told might change after the Nov. 5 general election: Waiting and worrying.

"It's hard on everybody," Myer said, noting the state's earlier cuts would force a first-time closure of the office Nov. 29.

Employees were forced to take one-day furloughs starting last month, as well as in November and January, and the district in recent months has suspended various legal assistance or intervention programs.

A number of options including closing offices to the public over various hours of the day have been discussed, Myer said.

So far, she said the process of handing out furloughs and shifting schedules hasn't dramatically impacted case management, or effectiveness.

"It all catches up with you after a while," she said. "Eventually, it will show up."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.