Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Supreme Court postpones next two scheduled court closings, gives Legislature time to fund judicial system

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court on Monday postponed the next two scheduled court closings and furloughs to give legislators time to fund the judiciary.

In a prepared statement, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades' statements on Friday were enough to persuade the court that the Legislature would work to provide the required $1.1 million for the judiciary to make payroll for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Rhoades, R-Newton, had criticized Nuss for shutting down the courts, but promised to push through funding when the Legislature reconvenes on Wednesday.

"His comments, plus those of his fellow appropriations committee members, that the Legislature will fund the courts were significant to the Supreme Court," Nuss said.

The court system was closed April 13 and 1,500 employees furloughed for one day without pay because of the budget battle.

Four more closings and furloughs were scheduled for this Friday, and then May 11, May 25 and June 8.

The court has postponed Friday's closing to Thursday, May 24, and the closing set for May 11 until Thursday June 7.

If the Legislature approves the needed funding before May 24, then all the remaining closings can be avoided.

"Waiting until May 24 should give the Legislature more than enough time to make good on the House committee's stated intention," Nuss said.

The supplemental appropriation for the judicial system fell by the wayside when the House and Senate adjourned in late March for its nearly month-long break without approving a budget.

Both the House and Senate agreed on the court funding, but the overall budget deal fell apart when the House negotiators, including Rhoades, refused to sign the appropriations bill because of a dispute over school funding.

A few days after legislators left town, Nuss ordered the courts closed for five days.

Some legislators said Nuss should have tapped internal court funds until the Legislature could return, but Nuss said that would have been inappropriate.

And he added, "We had no assurance at that time that our budget would not fall victim to the same impasses that created the legislature's inaction in March."

Nuss indicated if the funding is not provided, the change of furlough dates will cause more problems because court business scheduled for May 24 and June 7 in 105 counties would have to be rescheduled.

In addition, employees would face losing 20 percent of their pay per pay period under the proposed schedule.

“Changing the direction of the court system is not like turning a bass boat, while fishing on a Kansas lake," Nuss said. "It is more like trying to turn an aircraft carrier underway at sea.”