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You have to be living in a vacuum to not understand that the expenditures in this state have to be cut.

Chief judge pushes back on court cuts

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Governor Cuomo has not spared any aspect of state government from his budget cuts. That includes New York's judiciary system. The State's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, gave his State of the Judiciary speech this week. And he denied that any tensions exist between himself and Governor Cuomo over the proposed cuts. Karen Dewitt reports from Albany.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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Governor Cuomo, in his budget, proposed reducing costs at all state agencies by 10%. He himself took a 10% pay cut, and lowered the salaries of his top aides, to set a good example.

Cuomo asked the other two branches of government, the legislative and judiciary to cut their expenses by the same amount. The legislature complied, but the State’s chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, refused, cutting the budget for his branch of government by just 2%. That earned him a public rebuke from the governor during his budget presentation.

“Only the Office of Court Administration did not participate in finding reductions, and we will negatively comment on their budget when we submit it,” said Cuomo during his speech.

In those written comments, the governor said “the Judiciary budget appears to lack initiatives to restrain spending or consolidate operations”, and must accept that each branch of government can no longer conduit “business as usual”.

Judge Lippman, in his annual State of the Judiciary speech, said the courts have already been doing more with less. He says while caseloads have increased by 15% in the past ten years, staff has increased by just 3% overall, and the number of judges has grown by just 1%.  Judge Lippman says since the recession began, foreclosure cases have increased by 100%, and orders of protection are up by 66% in recent years.

Afterward, Lippman said that the judiciary can’t make cuts as deep as the governor is requesting without impairing it’s constitutionally mandated mission, to provide the public with access to justice.

“We don’t have programs to cut, we have, essentially, people,” said Lippman. “We would have to close down large parts of this court system.”

Judge Lippman says he is maintaining a “collaborative relationship”

with the executive branch, and is willing to make sacrifices.

“I am supportive of what he’s trying to do,” said Lippman. “You have to be living in a vacuum to not understand that the expenditures in this state have to be cut.”

But Lippman says ultimately, the judiciary is an “independent coequal branch of government”, with it’s “own responsibilities”

Under the state’s constitution, a governor can’t change the judiciary’s budgetary requests. He must submit them, without any additions or subtractions, to the legislature. The governor is allowed to provide  written commentary, and in his message to the legislature, Cuomo finds fault with several aspects of the judiciary’s budget request. The judges are allotting funds for a 31% salary increase, anticipating the results of an independent commission on judicial pay that begins meeting in April. Cuomo, in his written commentary, says “while it is regrettable that judges have not received a salary increase since 1999, the size of the increase is quite large given the current economic climate”.

Cuomo writes that “given the current fiscal situation”, he asks the legislature to “evaluate the request carefully”. Cuomo also asks the chief judge to “revisit the request”. Judge Lippman says he’s “not ruling out”, additional cuts to the judiciary in the future.

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