Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Court Resources Task Force
One of the most important steps that a business can take when faced with harsh economic times is to review its business practices, internally and externally. Delaware Courts are doing just that, and garnishing a varied set of reactions in response.

The State of Delaware has had good economic times in recent years, finding them selves facing surpluses for a long stretch. However, the last couple of years have left the State struggling to find funding for the many services it provides.

It may sound like a generalization, and to some degree it is, but judicial branches have never traditionally experienced a windfall of generosity from legislative branches. The legislature controls the purse strings of the State.

In Delaware, the Chief Justice normally presents his budgetary requests to the General Assembly in an Annual State of the Judiciary Address. Last week, Supreme Court Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey delivered his yearly address and announced a plan that sprung into action with his creation of a task force.

The Court Resources Task Force is not only reviewing business practices, but it is also considering alternative sources of funding beyond the traditional means of securing it through the legislative budgetary process. The Task Force met for the first time this last Monday, and the 16 member panel broke down into a number of groups to start studying different aspects of enhancing the Court’s financial situation.

Local opinion writer Ron Williams take on this subject is that the General Assembly should respond as quickly as possible by coming up with the money necessary for the courts to function (before they embarrass themselves).

Columnist Al Mascitti provides an alternative solution to court funding by suggesting an additional fee; a tax or surcharge on litigants in civil suits of 1% of attorney fees and awards. While that suggestion raises its own ethical questions, Mr. Mascitti shows that he understands the spirit of the task force – which is to examine other possibilities and consider them.

Courts don’t rely solely upon funding from the General Assembly. Often, many programs within the Judicial Branch begin with money received from federal grants. To not explore those opportunities, and others would be a shame.

If the biggest impact this task force makes is that the Court reviews its own business practices and finds cheaper and better ways to perform its functions, then its purpose would have been well served, regardless of what the pundits might say.
- William Slawski

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