With state revenues dropping sharply due to the pandemic, the Judicial Branch is reducing expenses now in an effort to mitigate possible furloughs and layoffs in the coming months.
Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. announced today that the court system will implement a statewide hiring freeze and suspend all out-of-state travel, effective May 15, 2020.
Details about the hiring freeze can be found in this policy. Travel exceptions might be granted if the travel is paid for with federal funds or by an outside agency/association and if social distancing measures will be in place to ensure the health and safety of the court personnel who are traveling.
“Over the last two months, our primary focus has been on modifying court operations in a way that would ensure social distancing while allowing us to provide essential court services,” Chief Justice Minton said in an email to the justices, judges, circuit court clerks and court personnel who serve the Judicial Branch. “Now we must turn our attention to the financial impact COVID-19 is having on the economy.”
He said that while the Judicial Branch’s one-year budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021) was better than anticipated, it does not fully fund court operations.
In addition, he anticipates the Judicial Branch will be asked to return funding this fiscal year due to a major drop in state revenues. That return would be in addition to the $7.5 million the Judicial Branch is already required to transfer back by June 30, 2020, under the FY 2020 budget bill. He also said there will likely be a drastic reduction in Judicial Branch funding for FY 2022 (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022) as the full effect of the pandemic takes its toll.
“While we’ve had to create a road map for court operations during a pandemic, we have years of experience in handling a financial downturn,” Chief Justice Minton said. “As painful as our cost-saving measures were during the Great Recession, the lean years of the mid-2000s prepared us for the fiscal challenges to come. We’re ready to use the knowledge and insight we gained then to navigate our way now. I’m confident in our ability to pull together during this difficult time as we carry out the important work of the courts.”
The Supreme Court is the state court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law. Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court and all seven justices rule on appeals that come before the court. The justices are elected from seven appellate districts and serve eight-year terms. A chief justice, chosen for a four-year term by fellow justices, is the administrative head of the state’s court system and is responsible for its operation. The Supreme Court may order a ruling or opinion to be published, which means that the ruling becomes the case law governing all similar cases in the future in Kentucky.
The Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort is the operations arm of the state court system. The AOC supports the activities of nearly 3,400 court system employees and 406 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the state court system, the AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget.
(provided by Kentucky Court of Justice for Kentucky)