West Virginia Record

Sunday, March 29, 2020

WEST VIRGINIA SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS: Chief Justice Armstead Presents Budget Request That is $4 Million Less Than Five Years Ago

By Press release submission | Jan 21, 2020

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West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued the following announcement on Jan. 13.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Tim Armstead presented a budget request that is $4 million less than the court system’s budget five years ago.

Chief Justice Armstead presented the West Virginia judicial branch’s $135.5 million budget request to the Senate Finance Committee. He was accompanied by Justices Beth Walker, Evan Jenkins, and John Hutchison. The budget presentation to the House Finance Committee will be at 9 a.m. on Thursday, January 16.

The appropriation request for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins on July 1, is the first since the Judicial Budget Oversight Amendment went into effect. “Our new Supreme Court has worked hard to ensure that the judiciary’s budget sets the right priorities and spends the taxpayers’ hard-earned money more efficiently,” Chief Justice Armstead said. “This is the first year in which the Legislature has oversight over the Court’s budget. We look forward to working with the Legislature to finalize a budget that is fiscally responsible and addresses the growing needs of our courts and probation officers throughout our state in light of the increasing opioid crisis.” Approximately 82 percent of the judicial branch budget is for employee salaries and benefits. The budget funds approximately 1,468 full-time positions throughout the state.

“The Court’s budget operates the judiciary’s work throughout the state. The proposed budget funds the work of our magistrates, family court judges, circuit court judges and probation officers in each of our fifty-five counties, as well as the dedicated support staff who assist them each day. It also funds much-needed updates and improvements in technology and equipment that will help make our court system more modern and accessible to our citizens,” Chief Justice Armstead said. Last year, the Court undertook a thorough review of its budget which led to a significant reduction in the amount requested. In addition, the Court worked with the Legislature to return to the general revenue fund $10 million remaining from previous fiscal years for use in other areas of the state budget. This return of excess funds was accomplished through a one-time reduction of the “Current Expenses” line item in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget from approximately $19.9 million to $9.9 million with the expectation that the line item would be restored to its current amount in Fiscal Year 2021.

The Court has filled this gap in its current year’s budget by spending down nearly $10 million in remaining excess funds from prior fiscal years. The “Current Expenses” line item funds such crucial services as guardians ad litem, mental hygiene commissioners, drug court counselors and staff, drug testing, family court space leases, and payments to jurors throughout the state. While this line item was restored to approximately $19.9 million in the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget, the overall 2021 budget proposal is still more than $4 million less than the court system’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget approved by the Legislature. Indeed, the budget request is $4 million less than the court’s budget five years ago in Fiscal Year 2016. This $4 million budget reduction in comparison to the Fiscal Year 2019 budget is made despite the fact that the Court system provided two back-to-back 5 percent pay raises to its employees at the same time as the West Virginia Legislature provided teachers and state employees commensurate pay raises in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020.1 Of the $135.5 million, the Court anticipates the following distribution:

 25 percent to circuit courts

o 75 judges in 31 circuits plus administrative assistants, law clerks, and court reporters

 10 percent to family courts

o 47 judges in 27 circuits plus administrative assistants and court reporters

 23 percent to magistrate courts

o 158 magistrates in 55 counties plus assistants and magistrate clerks’ offices

 21 percent to probation

o 300 officers currently

 16 percent to court administration

o Includes the Administrative Office in Charleston (see slide 13 of the presentation) as well as financial expenses including insurance payments, judicial retirement system contributions, wvOASIS user fees and software licenses and Law Library purchases.

 5 percent to the Supreme Court

o Includes five Justices, administrative assistants, and staff attorneys. This amount also includes the Clerk of the Court and Office of Counsel.

Original source can be found here.

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West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals