To the Editor:
Last week you published an article in which you were provided inaccurate information about the Commission on Judicial Operation and the proposed role of Assistant Judges following reorganization of the Vermont Court system.
Vermont state government is in the midst of a financial crisis, resulting in immediate serious budget cuts for most of state government, including the Judicial Branch.
The Commission on Judicial Operations was created by the Supreme Court at the request of the Legislature to make recommendations regarding use of technology, flexibility in the use of resources to respond to varying demands on the Judiciary, consolidation of staff, reallocation of jurisdiction between courts and any other ideas for the efficient and effective delivery of judicial services.
The Legislature also directed the commission to find $1 million in savings in the FY 2011 budget while preserving the ability to meet its constitutional responsibilities as a separate branch of government.
The commission is conducting an extensive process to obtain stakeholder input about reorganization of the Judicial Branch. Judiciary personnel, lawyers, and other partners in the court system in the Northeast Kingdom were invited to participate in many of these events.
Commisssion work groups, using the information received in the public consultation process, have recommended that the Vermont court system be restructured.
Although the constitution unifies the court system under the Supreme Court existing statutes preserve a hybrid state/county system with over 63 court service points that creates inefficiencies, forces redundancies in procedure and personnel, and prevents the Supreme Court from matching scarce resources to the most compelling needs.
The Assistant Judges of Caledonia County claim the Commission recommended that the Assistant Judges' administrative authority over county functions be eliminated. This statement is not correct.
The commission has not yet issued recommendeations. Work groups have recommended to the commission that the judicial duties of Assistant Judges be eliminated and that the county employees who work in the court system become state employees. The other county responsibilites of the Assistant Judges, preparation of county budgets, management of county buildings and employees will not be affected if these recommendations are adopted.The Judiciary's state budget pays assistant judges for days they sit on cases, which is in addition to the compensation they receive from the county. This currently costs $288,000. No other state has such redundancy. The commission has adopted Principles for Administration of the Vermont Judiciary. One of these principles is that all judges and judicial officers should be attorneys.Vermonters invest their time and money in litigation that is important to them, and the Commission work groups beleieve they are entitled to legally qualified judges, including in judicial bureau matters, where driving and hunting priveleges are at stake. By eliminating the judicial duties of assitant judges, and after providing legally trained hearing officers for allcases,the Judiciary will save $288,000 of taxpayer money.
The work group proposals to the commission, in the aggregate,are estimated to save over $1 million in county taxes and $1 million in state taxes.
For more information on the Commission on Judicial Operation, please go to: www.vermontjudicary.org/MasterPages/WhatsNew-CommissionJudicialOps.aspx