St. Joseph County is having a trial over a judicial mandate to increase salaries for judicial staff and improvements at a juvenile detention center. The Indiana Law Blog, as per usual, has some good coverage of this issue.
[Judge] Nemeth and county officials are in a legal fight over $313,000 in funding the county refused to release in 2008 to renovate parts of the JJC. The County Council and county commissioners had approved the judge’s request to transfer the money from an unspent personnel fund, but county commissioner Bob Kovach later refused to sign a requisition order.
Nemeth issued a judicial mandate order to obtain the money.
He also issued a mandate seeking to use probation services fees to fund raises for the juvenile/probate court’s executive secretary, fiscal officer, JJC director and five other managers. The proposed raises range from 10 percent increases to nearly 34 percent.
I’ve held forth on other mandate cases over the years. (See, e.g., here and here and here.) The problem, as I see it, is that judges are a little bit county and a little bit state. They can use their state created judicial powers in service of their county administrative functions. Other county department heads can’t just order the county council to dig into the county general fund and cough up more money for county employees. State judges can.
The Indiana Judicial Conference recently laid out a strategic plan (pdf) that touches on the mandate issue as well as a number of other things. Consideration is being given to centralizing administration and funding of the courts. Currently judges, magistrates, and prosecutors are paid by the state while the rest of the court staff and other administrative expenses are paid by the county.
Where we want to be:
We can do better by distributing resources across the State in a more equitable manner by pursuing centralized funding. More Hoosier citizens will benefit, particularly in counties without a large tax base.
The Division of State Court Administration is pursuing three studies regarding costs associated with centralized funding. The studies are by Larry DeBoer of Purdue University, the Indiana University SPEA school, and a local consultant. These studies are in progress, and we do not know what the results ultimately will be until these studies are complete. At this point, we cannot say centralized funding will definitely create taxpayer savings. We can say, with certainty, efficiencies will result by combining resources and eliminating duplicated efforts.
We have yet to address many complex issues, including arrangements for state court personnel to use county facilities, whether to convert court employees to state employees, and if so, which court employees should be converted. We would have to address court, probation, and security staff, public defenders and pauper counsel, as well as guardian ad litems and court appointed special advocates, interpreters and other specialized court functions. Some judicial officers who now work as commissioners and referees would become state funded Magistrate Judges under a centralized funding scenario.
We will also have to address a method for governance, budgeting, and allocating assets. It would be premature to render an opinion on how this funding change would work until such time as the three studies have been completed. Even without the results from the studies, we believe centralized funding will eliminate duplication and increase efficiency, as well as distribute resources in a uniform manner among all counties.
Generally speaking, I would suggest that the power to spend should be coupled with the duty to fund. If a state official is going to order that something be paid, then the state should be responsible for raising the funds. In the South Bend context, it’s one thing for the judge to say that staff salaries ought to be raised or that the juvenile justice center ought to be maintained better. I’m sure he’s right. But other things in the county need funding as well and, to me, it doesn’t seem quite right that the judge’s concerns get to jump to the front of the line simply by virtue of the judicial mandate.