NY Times Report on Crunch in the Courts

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The New York Times reported yesterday about a crunch in the state court system in that state caused by the recession. The New York state court finished the year with 4.7 million cases filed, the highest number ever. Many of these cases reflect the wide-spread effect of the recession: business dissolutions, bad debts and soured deals, but also filings that are indirect but still jarring measures of economic stresses, like charges of violence in families torn apart by lost jobs and homes in jeopardy. Contract disputes are up 9% from 2008, and foreclosure cases up 17%.

What the article doesn’t discuss is whether the New York state court system is stretched as thin as our system in Minnesota. Just two months ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered a temporary increase in lawyer’s annual registration fees to help pay for the Public Defender’s Fund, which is sorely underfunded and the public defenders, overworked and underpaid (I highly recommend reading the order, especially the scathing dissent by Justice Paul Anderson, who trashes Pawlenty and the Minnesota legislature). Courthouses around the state are closed half a day a week (in Hennepin County on Wednesday afternoons) to the public. The counties are on a salary and hiring freeze. How will the Minnesota court system deal with the effects of the recession in our own courtrooms? Given the state of things, not too well, I fear.

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Discussion

  1. Thomas Gallagher  January 8, 2010

    This is a significant problem in Minnesota – chronic underfunding of the courts by the legislature and the governor. The court system is the foundation of our civilized society – to the extent that it is civilized. Reducing public funding of the courts means less services to the public when it needs them; as well as increased substitute revenue sources, such as increased filing fees, fees on lawyers, etc. These substitute revenue sources for the courts create increased barriers to justice, and reduce access to the courts.

    Over time, the rule of law will decline as people turn away from the courts, and towards self-help justice. This eventually could lead to greater violence, social unrest, and injustice for all.

    Court funding should be restored. It is a fundamental necessity, not a luxury item.

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  2. Karen Lundquist  January 11, 2010

    I agree. There are too many cases of people being left without access to the courts and to justice, often for very important matters. I believe that we should expand the right to counsel to some fundamental civil matters (“Civil Gideon”) such as housing for example.

    I liked what Justice Paul Anderson so eloquently and descriptively said in the order increasing lawyers’ licensing fees:

    Some people, both at the national and state level, are so bold as to welcome this turn of events by clearly articulating their goal to shrink government down to a size so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub. The problem with this approach is that when you continuously put the government’s head underwater, it is not the government that drowns — real people drown. Floodwaters breach levies and people drown. Bridges collapse and people drown.

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