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Statewide cuts to hit courts

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Managing Editor
The Escambia County court system is feeling the pinch brought on by state-mandated budget cuts that are eliminating positions and services offered by various arms of the justice system throughout Alabama.
The county's judges received a letter this week detailing the cuts the local courts will have to deal with. These cuts will come primarily in the areas of staff and jury costs.
District Judge J. David Jordan said of the cuts: "It's bad. I was afraid it was going to be bad, and it is."
The staff cuts in Escambia County will come mainly from the Circuit Clerk's Office. There, the state is forcing the elimination of three deputy clerks.
Currently, the office employs seven deputy clerks.
Escambia County Circuit Clerk Ken Taylor said that the cuts -- which take effect Nov. 28 -- will slow down the administration of justice in the county.
And the cuts couldn't have come at a worse time for Taylor's office. Recently, the City of Brewton effectively closed its municiapl court system, choosing instead to have its cases disposed of through the county. That change, which took full effect Oct. 1, is adding an estimated 1,300 cases a year to an already heavy workload.
Jordan echoed Taylor's concerns about the timely disposition of cases, saying that every case that comes before the court has to be accompanied by the appropriate paperwork -- the pleadings in the case.
That paperwork is compiled and moved through the system by the Circuit Clerk's office.
Jordan is himself losing an administrative assistant, who helps with clerical duties in his Juvenile Justice Court. This will shift much of that work onto his staff of juvenile probation officers, who would normally be supervising youth who have come through the court.
The court's two circuit court judges, Bradley Byrne and Joe Brogden, are faced with having decide how they will go about reducing jury costs by one-third as a result of the budget cuts.
They have been given several options for doing this, but whatever they decide the impact on the court system in Escambia County will be felt.
In addition to the cuts in staff and jury costs, the court is facing reductions in travel expenses and other support costs. There is also a hiring freeze on, as well as a freeze on pay increases.
The cuts are part of a statewide system of cost reductions in the courts. Across Alabama, some 500 positions are being cut, and in some larger counties court services and locations are facing shutdown.
Court officials have been anticipating the cuts since last month, when the State Legislature passed a budget which included a 10 percent reduction in funding for the court system.