It’s widely acknowledged that Alabama’s court system has never received adequate funding. While that was bad, things have now gotten much worse. The court system is hurting badly because of another substantial reduction in its budget. There can be no excuse for Alabama to allow this to happen. Good employees of the system, who are badly needed, are being laid off. An official month-long lay-off notice started on August 1st. It includes massive layoffs in the offices of Circuit Court Clerks statewide. This latest blow to a trial court system already suffering from previous budget cuts will hurt not only those being laid off, but it will hurt all Alabama citizens. About one-third of the 750 employees in clerks’ offices statewide were laid off effective August 31st. The layoffs were timed so the 255 workers will be off the state payroll before the court system’s new budget takes effect on October 1st.
The cuts will badly hurt the performance of the clerks’ offices in processing documents filed in circuit, district and family courts statewide. This is a very serious matter and one that adversely affects all Alabama citizens. To say that trial court workers have had a lot put on their backs this year is a gross understatement. After the most recent layoffs, more than 400 court workers will have been taken off the state payroll in the last few months. Over the last decade, the Legislature has mandated $64 million in extra spending for the courts, but provided only $32 million in additional funds. That has left a $32 million hole which is totally unacceptable.
The counties provide the courtrooms and offices for the court system and that means most of the state court budget is spent on employees. Non-employee costs such as travel allowances were cut from the state court budget earlier this year. State budget cuts also forced officials to cancel half of the weeks set aside for jury trials. The court system in Alabama is too important to the people of Alabama for it to be treated like a second-class citizen when it comes to funding. The judicial system must be adequately funded and without delay. It is a co-equal branch of government with the Executive and Legislative branches. Many believe that it violates the Constitution for two branches of government to gang up and punish the third.