to cut costs,
Increasing filings andBy Debra Barayuga
demand for services are
stretching resources to the
limit, an official says
Raising judges' salaries, hiring three more judges, preparing its computer information systems for the year 2000 and boosting courthouse security are the state Judiciary's top priorities this legislative session.
While the Judiciary continues to look for ways to reduce costs and boost efficiency, the increasing filings and demand for court services are stretching its resources to the limit, Michael Broderick, administrative director of the state courts, told members of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.
The Judiciary is seeking an additional $2.7 million in each of the next two fiscal years, for a total budget of about $92 million in each year of the biennium.
More judges are neededThe proposal amounts to a 3 percent increase in each of the next two years. The Judiciary's budget represents only 2.77 percent of the state's general funds, a share that has declined since 1990, Broderick said.
"Our request is within the general fund expenditure ceiling based on the Council of Revenues estimates of state growth for the two-year budget period." he said. "It's not excessive."
Judiciary Chairman Paul Oshiro said the committee is gathering information and will review the data presented.
The Judiciary is asking for a raise of 27 percent over three years for judges and justices, which is the amount the Judicial Salary Commission is recommending. Hawaii is the only state in the country that hasn't given its judges raises since 1990, according to Broderick.
Two Family Court judges are needed for Oahu and the Big Island to handle the high volume of domestic violence and Child Protective Service cases, Broderick said. Currently, the courts rely on per diem District judges to take the place of District Family Court judges temporarily assigned to Family Court.
Another judge is needed on Kauai, which has only one Circuit judge. The lone judge currently handles administrative duties, arbitration and Family Court matters, said Steven Okihara, court administrator.
The caseload is fairly high, with the judge handling 28 trials during the fiscal year 1997-98.
Another priority on Kauai is a new courthouse. A $50 million project has been scaled down to $30 million in light of the state's economic condition.
Space lack causing logjamJudiciary employees now share with the Department of Accounting and General Services a two-story building built in 1938, and there are only two courtrooms -- one for Circuit Court and the other shared by Family and District Court.
"Without an additional building, cases are being held back because there isn't enough courtroom space," Okihara said. If a new judge is added, even more space would be needed, he said.
Security continues to be a major concern, particularly at the Hilo courthouse. With state sheriffs stretched thin, money is needed to hire private security guards, which doesn't cost as much, and to purchase surveillance equipment, Broderick said.
Of immediate concern is the need to limit access to courthouses and search those who enter. Since 1995, 18 bomb threats forced evacuations of Oahu courthouses, compared to 10 in the preceding five years.
The Judiciary would also like to make the drug courts a permanent program within the Circuit Court system by converting 14 temporary positions to permanent status.
The program, which offers a cost-effective alternative to incarcerating drug offenders and provides drug treatment, is working, Broderick said. It has a recidivism rate of 6 percent, compared with other criminal justice programs with recidivism rates ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent.
But lack of permanent status has resulted in staff turnover and instability, he said.