The Kansas Supreme Court wants legislators to take money meant for the new electronic filing system and use it on judicial-branch salaries instead so courts won’t have to be closed any additional days before the end of the fiscal year, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Wednesday.
Nuss told reporters after the annual State of the Judiciary address that a shortfall in revenues from court fees will leave the judicial branch at least $2.5 million short of what it needs to cover operating costs through June. He said employee furloughs, which force court offices to shut down, are possible if the hole isn’t plugged.
The judicial branch hasn’t yet touched the $3.1 million legislators set aside last year to begin building a new, statewide e-filing system. Nuss said the justices are asking lawmakers to divert the funds to court operations now and replace the e-filing funds later.
Nuss’ 30-minute address touched on several initiatives designed to make court operations more efficient – including the e-filing project – but didn’t directly reference on the judicial branch’s budget problems.
The chief justice also didn’t respond to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s call to change how Supreme Court justices are selected, but later described the current system, in which an attorney-led commission screens applicants, as “excellent.”
“I was afraid I was turning into a whiner and a complainer,” the chief justice told reporters about avoiding the budget problems, noting he’s done so in past addresses.
As for plugging the hole in the judicial branch’s budget with the e-filing funds, Nuss said, “That money would just be sitting in a bank account.”
But Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican and an attorney, said the drop in court-fee revenues suggests fewer cases and less work for some courts, making it possible to shift resources among judicial districts.
“That’d be the first thing,” he said.
Nuss’ address came less than a week after Brownback said in his State of the State address that selecting Supreme Court justices should be “more democratic” because the courts are ruling on policy questions.
The nominating commission selects three finalists for each vacancy and the governor picks one, with no role for legislators. Brownback said either the governor should appoint court members – subject to state Senate confirmation – or justices should be elected.
Nuss said the current system is democratic because any attorney can apply for a Supreme Court seat. He said electing justices is problematic because of big campaign donors’ potential influence, and that a federal-style system allows a governor to limit the search to a single, favored candidate.