Lawmaker warns courts
on $15 million wish list

By Pat Omandam

State Judiciary officials came into a joint legislative committee briefing at the state Capitol yesterday to lobby for a $15 million increase in the courts' proposed $110 million annual budget.

State of Hawaii They left with a caution from House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo-Hamakua) that the state faces a no-growth budget scenario and that spending restrictions may be imposed because of an expected $340 million shortfall in revenues.

The House Finance and the Senate Ways and Means committees held a daylong informational briefing yesterday to hear from the Judiciary, OHA, counties and legislative agencies on their plans for the 2003-2005 state budget.

Courts Administrative Director Michael Broderick told legislators $10 million of the Judiciary's $15 million increase is for an information management system to link all of the state's circuit courts so files and cases can be transferred electronically between them and not re-entered in each circuit court.

Such a system would help the courts find all the cases statewide related to an individual, the total fines owed by that person and any restitution or probation conditions, Broderick said. "It's such a big part of our budget request and important to the future success of the Judiciary," he said.

Currently, the Judiciary has $2 million in a computer system special fund that gets its money from state traffic abstracts issued to drivers.

The Judiciary collects $2 of every $7 paid for an abstract -- about $800,000 a year -- while the rest goes into the state general fund.

But that money is not enough to pay for the new information system, which is estimated to cost between $15 million and $20 million and will take several years to complete. Requests for bids on the project are expected to close next week, Broderick said.

The Judiciary is trying to offset the cost of the system by proposing to increase case-filing fees up to $300 from $200. It is an issue the Hawaii State Bar Association board of directors will take up at its retreat this weekend, he said.

Takamine asked Broderick what effect spending restrictions would have on the Judiciary.

Broderick said the Judiciary could continue to function under a no-growth budget scenario and could absorb a spending restriction through savings in payroll due to vacant positions not being filled right away. But he hopes it does not have to.

"There's not a lot of room here to begin to make cuts without impacting the public," he said.

Meanwhile, a top priority for the Judiciary is two new Intermediate Court of Appeals judgeships and accompanying positions. Broderick said if those positions were not funded, it would have a tangible impact on the timely resolution of cases.

Also, the Judiciary wants continued funding for construction of the Hilo Courthouse, an increase in pay for court interpreters and more money for law books for the UH Richardson School of Law Library.

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