Funding Crunch For Courts Focal Point Of Budget Talks
HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-Cleaning up and clearing out court systems that are overloaded and underfunded. State lawmakers say it’s one of their top priorities in ongoing budget discussions, as some warn that the system is near its breaking point.
A shortage of both judges and prosecutors has caused cases to pile up at courthouses across Alabama, including in Madison County. Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel tells WHNT News 19 that help can’t come quick enough. McDaniel has been appointed special advisor on a study that’s exploring ways to unclog Madison County’s court system, which has also impacted operations at the nearby jail.
“We have to figure out a way to get them through the system quicker,” said McDaniel, who has practiced in Madison County for decades. “$39,500 that taxpayers are paying today, not this week, but today for people that are locked up.”
McDaniel says Madison County’s headache is just one symptom of a statewide problem. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has warned that the judiciary system needs a significant upgrade in funding in order to ease the strain at courthouses. State lawmakers have already revised next year’s original general budget proposal to include an extra $3 million for courts, but Moore has said at least another $10 million to $12 million is needed to avoid job losses that would only add further delays.
“Anything, any kind of funding you can get to help with personnel to help with that workload would be greatly beneficial,” said McDaniel. “We do need another district judge in Madison County, and another circuit judge. That would definitely help with the backload.”
State officials say there are currently around 1,800 people employed in Alabama’s court system. That’s down from roughly 2,200 workers employed just two years ago. Circuit court offices in Alabama are currently closing public operations on Wednesdays in order to help save money.