Arkansas trial courts face financial crisis | Arkansas Blog

Monday, September 26, 2011

Arkansas trial courts face financial crisis

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 4:15 PM

The state courts are suddenly facing a financial crisis and the state judges will meet Friday to try to figure out ways to deal with it.

J.D. Gingerich, director of the state administrative office of the courts, said in an e-mail to judges Tuesday that the board of directors of the Judicial Council had called a council meeting for 3 p.m. Friday at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock. The Judicial Council is composed of the state’s active and retired judges. Gingerich said the board recognized that the short notice could cause difficulty, but “the seriousness of the issue and the need for immediate action prompted the decision to call the meeting.”

The state’s share of court costs and filing fees go into a fund called the Administration of Justice Fund (AJOF). From this fund comes the money for “many employees and programs essential to the court system,” Gingerich said. He said the fund had been declining in revenue for the last nine months, and that the state Department of Finance and Administration now estimated the fund would be depleted in 60 days.

The legislature is not scheduled to meet again until February. Gingerich said that DFA had notified all agencies receiving money from AJOF that that it appeared the fund’s expenses would exceed revenue by 18 percent, “requiring that all budgets be lowered by that amount. …

While this action will require some painful decisions for programs which rely on these funds, it has an immediate impact upon the ability of the Auditor of State to process payroll for trial court employees.

That is why immediate action is necessary.” The long-term problem likely will require action by the legislature, Gingerich said. The council meeting Friday will discuss how to respond to the payroll problem until the legislature meets, he said.

The cause of the decline in revenue is “the million-dollar question,” Gingerich said. He said there’d been a slight decline in civil cases filings, but not nearly enough to account for the huge decline in revenue. He said he expected that multiple causes would be found.

Revenues have been eroding for two years, as the chart shows.

— By Doug Smith

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