The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.
Nebraska Chief Justice Michael Heavican delivered his State of the Judiciary Address to the unicameral Nebraska legislature on January 20. There was apparently no formal resolution, only a motion at the appointed time for a committee to escort the Chief Justice to the rostrum. (update: added link)
Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:
The Courts have a constitutional mandate to provide access to justice for all of Nebraska’s citizens. Of special concern are the needs of the elderly and the young who become wards of our county courts when they cannot protect themselves… We have a duty to those who need such protection to not let the very court processes designed to protect them become an opportunity for embezzlement or further abuse.
Children in the Courts
I spoke to you last year about one of these programs, the Nebraska Juvenile Service Delivery Project, which began as a pilot in Omaha in January 2009. The project is a collaborative effort with the Department of Health and Human Services and is designed to safely supervise court-adjudicated delinquent children in their homes rather than in in-patient treatment facilities.
The Court’s Office of Probation Administration is also focusing on truancy intervention programs in order to reduce the number of children entering the juvenile justice system due to habitual truancy.
We also continue to work to improve the court system with respect to abused and neglected children through partnerships with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.
In past years I have spoken to you about increasing the use of technology in the courts to improve productivity. I am pleased to report that our electronic payment system collected over $5 million in traffic fines in 2010, as well as over $2 million in other costs and fines. In addition, electronic filing is gaining momentum as lawyers become more acclimated to the use of technology. At this time over 50% of our new civil filings in county court systems statewide are made electronically.
In the past I have also spoken to you about the growing demand for interpreters in our courts and the consequential need for budget increases to compensate for those interpreter demands. Without going into detail, by using technology to provide long-distance interpreter services, where appropriate our courts have limited the need for ever-larger budget increases for interpreters.
Technological advances are also allowing us to improve access to the courts for those who may not be able to afford legal services.
We have also begun a cooperative effort with the Nebraska Library Commission. Our Administrative Office was asked to serve as a key project partner with the Library Commission in a multi-million dollar grant project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
I frequently tell people that technology is the future of the courts. That, however, is an oversimplification. Technology is the future of the courts, but it must be coupled with long-range planning in anticipation of the court system’s future need for resources.
The Court’s Budget
Having updated this body with respect to the Court’s use of technology to improve efficiency, as well as the Court’s use of long-range planning, I have reached an appropriate point in this presentation to discuss funding for the courts. The courts are not just another agency line item in the State’s budget. Our courts are a constitutional branch of government, co-equal with the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch.
Over 95% of the Court’s general fund budget is allocated for those employee expenses. Any cut in the Court’s budget, whether it is 10% or 5% or 1%, means operating with fewer employees.
No judges or court employees will receive a cost of living increase next year. We will continue to not fill or delay filling vacancies. Depending on the extent of cuts in our budget, furloughs are likely.