The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.
Pursuant to HCR 5014 of 2011, the Kansas House and Senate met in joint session on February 15. Interestingly, and perhaps uniquely,the resolution called the joint session “for the purpose of hearing a message from the Supreme Court on the judicial branch of government”, and direct the House and Senate form a committee “to wait upon the Supreme Court Justices.” The chief justice was not specified by name or title.
It was however Chief Justice Lawton Nuss that delivered the address. Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:
[I]t is especially important for all of us here — members of the different branches of Kansas government — to combine our unique experiences and perspectives to work for the benefit of those whom ALL of us serve: the people of Kansas.
I saw a wonderful example of this “work for the people of Kansas” last spring when the Supreme Court had closed all Kansas state courts and sent employees home without pay for lack of money, for the first time in Kansas history. Legislators then asked me, “Exactly how much money will it take to keep Kansas courts open in FY 2011?” I consulted my colleagues and advisers; we tightened our belts — again — and told you precisely how much, in a short letter. Writing and then hand delivering such a letter to all 165 legislators may also have been a “for the first time in Kansas history.” To your everlasting credit, for which all Kansans should be grateful, you agreed to provide these funds.
Now, here we all are again, in the 2011 legislative session, where economic times are not just hard: they are harder. And where hundreds of requests, if not outright demands, are made upon you for slices of the shrinking Kansas monetary pie. The judicial branch of government is included among those groups requesting funds.
Let me start by acknowledging many have said that Kansas government needs to be reduced to performing only its “core functions.” I express no opinion about the wisdom of that goal. But in the words of Shakespeare, let me speak “what I do know.”…And I do know — that if we talk about the core functions of Kansas government, then it likewise makes sense that we start with the Kansas Constitution…As a result, I respectfully suggest to you that the judicial branch was created to perform some of the original functions of Kansas government. Your Kansas judges and their staffs have proudly been performing these original governmental functions — like the administration of justice — for the last 150 years.
Like you, we in the judicial branch have been well aware of the condition of the Kansas economy. For example, when you had asked how much money was required to keep courts open, you also asked us to “be realistic.” At that time we had been maintaining a hiring freeze for 18 months. We had been doing so because about 97 % of our judicial branch budget is for salaries; therefore much of our significant cost-cutting unfortunately comes at the expense of our personnel.
We agreed with two fundamental suggestions in your Legislative Post Audit: (1) the absolute need for a Blue Ribbon Commission to study the operations of the judicial branch, and (2) the absolute need for a “weighted case load study” to be funded by the Legislature. We recognize that sheer numbers of cases do not tell the full story of judicial and staff workloads. A valid study must take into account the driving time for judges in multi-county districts and the complexity of certain cases. For example, a trial for first-degree murder takes longer than one for simple theft. In other words, we need to compare apples to apples.
We decided to do some long-range planning. We decided we would try to be more efficient; to make the best use of taxpayer money; and hopefully to even save some money. So we started with your Legislative Post Audit study recommendation: we first looked at a weighted case load study. We learned that such a study had first been recommended in Kansas in 1944 — 67 years ago — and had been recommended many times since. But no legislative funding has ever been authorized. Nevertheless, in August of 2010, we signed a contract with the National Center for State Courts for a weighted caseload study of judges and staff workloads.
In the meantime, several months ago the Supreme Court appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission of 24 members. Here, we were also following the recommendation of your Legislative Post Audit study. This Commission will consider the results of the weighted case load study and will also review the operations of the judicial branch. It is authorized to consider issues like the number of court locations needed to provide Kansans access to justice (we are currently required by statute to have one judge per county); consider the services to be provided at each court location and the hours of operation; and consider the appropriate use of technology, cost containment or reductions, and flexibility in the use of human resources. This Commission has been asked to make recommendations to the Supreme Court for possible changes.
Together, the weighted caseload study and the Blue Ribbon Commission are called Project Pegasus (after the winged horse of Greek mythology)…I also want to emphasize that Project Pegasus has the potential for the most dramatic change in the judicial branch since court unification in 1977. It is additionally important that any changes be the right ones because these changes, like court unification in 1977, may be with us for many years to come. Why do I provide this detailed and probably painful explanation? The answer is: to tell you how extensive this project is; to tell you how significant its changes can be; and to tell you how committed our judicial branch people are to it. But it is also to ask you to allow us to finish it without interruption for the benefit of Kansas.
We ask that you return to the spirit that moved you last spring when you courageously decided to provide funding to keep Kansas courts open. We ask you to preserve that funding for the rest of this fiscal year and provide the funding we have requested for all of 2012. Such funding will allow us to receive our Pegasus reports and start considering needed improvements to the judicial branch. Less than that means closing courts — very quickly.
Loss of funding also jeopardizes electronic case filing, otherwise known as “e-filing.” E-filing, as its name suggests, allows lawsuits and related legal documents to be filed with the courts electronically from office or home, with no gas used in driving to the courthouse. After initial start-up costs, such filing systems in other states and at the federal level in Kansas have demonstrated efficiencies that save both the public and the judiciary considerable time and resources. It is designed with the basic business philosophy: spend money now to save more money in the future. An incredible amount of time and federal grants have already been spent; that investment would be lost without further funding.
During your legislative session, I am confident that you will take fair account of the needs of the judicial branch as we provide our core functions of Kansas government in administering justice to our citizens. And finally, for all the good work you have done and continue to do for the people of our state in these difficult times, I want to express my gratitude and bid you Godspeed. Thank you.