CHARLESTON – West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Menis Ketchum asked the House and Senate to repeal three bills during budget hearings before their finance meetings.
Ketchum, along with Justice Allen Loughry, attended the Jan. 18 meetings to discuss the state Supreme Court budget. During the hearings, Ketchum asked the House and Senate to repeal three bills that would help cut the budget by approximately $10 million.
The three bills Ketchum asked to be repealed involved drug courts, special sex probation officers and family court rent.
The budget this year is $143 million. Last year, it was $139 million.
“That is about 3.2 percent of the state budget and there is no reason for it to be that high,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said the increase was caused by the Legislative mandates that the Supreme Court is required to pay.
“I’m not here to tell you if laws are good or bad,” Ketchum said. “I’m just telling you that we have had an increase of $3.9 million because of things the Legislature has passed in expenses this year."
Ketchum said he is not happy at all with the budget.
“I’ve picked out just three bills, that … if you wanted to, this session, to just void them,” Ketchum said. “It would save us about $10 million.”
Ketchum said while drug courts are a fine idea, it costs the Supreme Court approximately $5 million a year.
“This work can be done by the probation officers already under the judges,” Ketchum said. “The judges already have the tools in their toolboxes to handle these matters without having to have drug courts.”
Ketchum said each drug court costs a minimum of $150,000 each year.
Ketchum said the special sex probation officers bill, which he calls pedophile probation officers, is a bill he would also like to see repealed.
“We have probation officers working in the counties in the courthouses for the judges already,” he said. “But, the Legislature has passed a law where we have to have pedophile probation officers that do the job on supervising people who have been convicted of sex crimes.”
Ketchum said that work can be done by the probation officers already under the courts in their respective counties.
“But, it’s worse than that,” Ketchum said. “This law provides that these special sex probation officers don’t report to the judge, they report to the Supreme Court in Charleston, no matter where they are in the state. How do we know they’re working? They don’t have offices in the courthouse.”
Ketchum said even worse, the local judges and people do not get to appoint the special sex probation officers, the administrator of the Supreme Court does.
The third bill pertains to family court rent, which will cost approximately $2 million.
“The county commissions own the courthouse buildings,” Ketchum said. “The Legislature has passed a law that the Supreme Court pays rent to the counties for the family courts. These courts are the counties’ courts, they’re not the Supreme Court’s courts.”
Ketchum said they’re not paying rent for circuit courts or magistrate courts, which are in the same building as the family courts.
“When the law tells us to pay the counties for their judges and their courts, it’s hard for us to pay our budget,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said these bills are fine bills, but he said they also are a waste of money.
“Yeah, I’m cheap. I am just trying to find ways to cut the budget,” Ketchum said. “It’s getting to the point to laying off people and if it comes to that, we will just have to do that.”
Ketchum said he is just concerned for the budget and what it will cost to create an intermediate appellate court if the Legislature does that this session.