Report lists reasons for court funding decline

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 130 views 

Court officials released a special report that explains why the depleted Administration of Justice (AOJ) fund lost so much money in 2011 that Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has had to bail it out with emergency funds.

Since November, Beebe has twice provided tens of thousands of dollars in funding to help the AOJ fund meet payroll expenses for trial court assistants. Beebe has asked court officials to provide more detail of why the fund has lost money and what can be done to stem the decline in court revenue.

In a report released to judges dated Feb. 24, 2012, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) provided an analysis of eight district courts and why their funding has slumped during the past several years. The eight courts were selected because they had the biggest drop-off in revenue from the AOJ fund.

Three primary factors were cited for declining court revenues, including a slower rate of tickets issued, cases filed and warrants served.

Tickets served and cases filed fell by an average of 10% during the calendar years of 2010 and 2011. During that same time, warrants issued and served decreased by 6%.

“In general, court personnel attributed case reduction to a reduced number of police officers and state troopers,” the report said.

The study also stated that the national economic downturn contributed to declining AOJ fund revenue.

“According to district personnel, defendants were assessed smaller installment payments, worked more community service in lieu of payments, and served more jail time because of their inability to pay fines and costs,” the report said.

In previous statements, court officials indicated that a bottleneck of foreclosure activity due to a recent federal court ruling in Arkansas may have contributed to the AOJ fund revenue loss, but the new report does not mention that scenario.

Since 2001, a number of one-time charges depleted the AOJ fund to the tune of more than $21.8 million. Those one-time items, which were primarily in response to new laws passed by the General Assembly, included funding for:
• Administrative Office of the Courts – $2.1 million
• Arkansas Dept. of Corrections – $7 million
• Public Defender Commission – $2.8 million
• State Crime Lab – $600,000
• The state’s two law schools – $2 million
• Crime Victims’ Reparations Revolving Fund – $2.5 million
• Pilot Project for District Court System – $2.3 million

In a note to judges, AOC director J.D. Gingrich said that the one-time charges weren’t the source of the current funding crisis, but they did contribute to the fund’s long-term viability.

“The report also notes the impact of one-time appropriations from the fund over the last 15 years and, while not a cause of the recent decline, contributed to the AOJ Fund’s inability to withstand the recent decline in revenues,” Gingrich said in his release of the report.

The report did not offer any solutions to the funding problem. You can access the AOJ report at this link provided by Talk Business.