In response to falling state revenues, the state of Oregon slashed $11.1 million from its judicial budget. That in turn prompted the Chief Justice to order Oregon State Courts to Close Fridays.

Oregonians will wait longer for their day in court after Chief Justice Paul De Muniz announced today he’s closing all state courts on Fridays and forcing 1,800 judicial staffers to take Fridays off without pay.

The decision came after the Legislature’s combined Ways and Means Committee voted today to cut $11.1 million from the state Judicial Department’s 2007-09 budget. That’s a 28 percent cut from the parts of the budget available to cut.

The closures will begin Friday, March 13 and last at least through June 30, says Phil Lemman, a Judicial Department spokesman. They affect the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Tax Court, county circuit courts and administrative offices.

About 1,800 judicial staffers statewide will face a 20-percent pay cut when they’re forced to take Fridays off. But Lemman says judges’ salaries are protected by state law and cannot be reduced until they finish their elected term.

As a result, Lemman says, circuit court judges will keep the 17-percent pay raise they received last year from the Legislature. Their current annual salary is $112,488.

Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz Blasts The Legislature

Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz blasted the legislature in a Press Release On Court Closures.

“These budget reductions are a huge blow to Oregon’s courts and the people we serve and will affect public safety, the welfare of children, and everyone who needs their day in court,” Chief Justice De Muniz said. “Oregonians will have the unfortunate opportunity to learn how justice delayed means justice denied.”

The closures are made necessary by an $11.1 million General Fund reduction to the Oregon Judicial Department’s 2007-09 budget. That cut was approved today by the legislative Ways and Means Committee. If approved by the full legislature and signed by the governor, expected next week, the cuts will require all department employees to take 16 unpaid furlough days before the end of June.

Chief Justice De Muniz said he will issue a closure order when the governor signs the budget reduction into law. The Friday closures will affect over 12,000 trials and other proceedings already scheduled through June. The closures threaten the courts’ ability to meet statutory deadlines in all cases and cause lengthy delays in resolving landlord/tenant, divorce, child support, child custody, and many other civil cases. More than 50,000 new cases are filed in Oregon circuit courts each month. Of particular concern is the continuing ability of courts to meet federal deadlines to review and handle child welfare cases to ensure their proper placement.

If Chief Justice De Muniz feels so badly then he and the circuit court justices ought to agree to forgo their 17% pay hike to keep the court open on Fridays. Instead, De Muniz along with the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Tax Court, and the county circuit court judges are taking a 17% raise while working 20% fewer days.

I see no shared sacrifice offer from the judges, instead I see crocodile tears and an extra day of golf. Tough decisions are going to have to be made but for now they were postponed.

It’s time to roll back the salaries of all elected and appointed government officials at every level including local, state, and federal. It would be nice to see this happen voluntarily instead of by force.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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