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Monday, April 16, 2012

Cuts to the courts make their way into our homes

You know it’s serious when legal reformers and trial lawyers agree.

Legal reformers consistently argue that when the publicly-financed civil court system is inundated with absurd litigation, the brakes are put on justice for everyone else. 

Child custody cases, divorces, landlord-tenant disputes, and temporary restraining orders sought by battered women must compete for the same day in court as the guy who sues the bar after crashing his motorcycle in a drunken stupor and the woman who spills hot coffee on her lap. 

And that day in court, of course, is underwritten by taxpayers.  So when funding is cut to the judicial branch, as it was in 42 states last year, the pace of justice slows considerably.

"The impact on people in great distress, such as abused women seeking temporary restraining orders, is beyond measure in money," says Jon Streeter, president of the State Bar of California.

The simplest divorce cases can now take a year to resolve in some states.  “Such delays are not just creating inconvenience for people trying to claim money from landlords or tenants, or fight traffic tickets.  Court cuts are hitting people where they live,” writes Alan Greenblatt for NPR

Criminal cases take precedence over civil cases, of course. But that’s hardly comforting to the everyday Americans who need the civil court system to protect them or make them whole.  One circuit in Georgia stopped hearing civil cases altogether. 

Backlog in states have become so significant that Institute for Legal Reform President Lisa Rickard and American Bar Association President Bill Robinson III pleaded with lawmakers to take cuts to the judiciary seriously.  "When states financially starve their judiciaries, they inadvertently create environments toxic to economic growth," they wrote in an op-ed in USA TODAY. 

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