Another budget season, another judicial mandate. In this installment, St. Joseph County judge Peter Nemeth issued “a judicial mandate ordering the County Council and Board of Commissioners to appropriate $60,208 to pay raises to eight court employees and $295,950.98 to renovate the Juvenile Justice Center.”
I’ve covered this ground before. The axe I continue to grind is that it seems wrong to me that judges have special rights to county money not provided to other county department heads. Our judiciary is an odd hybrid of state and county. The judge is regarded as a state officer but his or her employees are generally county employees. The county is required to provide funding for the court facilities and staff. Judges have no responsibility to raise revenues but they can compel expenditure on behalf of court operations.
I don’t think judges are using their power capriciously or for particular gain; but there is an inequity when they don’t have the same constraints as other department heads. Perhaps making court funding entirely a state matter — a proposal that’s floating around since judges are state officers — would rationalize the use of the mandate power. I suspect the mandate power would get modified pretty quickly if the funds were coming out of the state general fund instead of a county general fund.