|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JANUARY 2011|
Funding for the Judicial System
1. The overarching priority is adequate funding for the judicial system. The Oregon Judicial Department budget for the current (2009-11) biennium began seven percent lower than the amount needed to maintain services at previous levels. The result of this cut was elimination of an entire division in the State Court Administrator’s Office. As the current biennium has progressed, the judicial department has sustained further cuts along with the other branches of government, and the outlook for the next several two year budget cycles is for more of the same. The bar will advocate for sufficient funding to maintain the core functions of the judicial branch.
I should mention that the courts will have to take more budget reductions along with the other branches of state government, and that significant judicial department needs — including creating new judgeships, increasing judicial salaries and upgrading court facilities — are likely to be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
The cut to the judicial branch during the current biennium would have been substantially greater had not the legislature and the judicial branch collaborated in 2009 to enact a temporary increase in filing fees and criminal fines. The bar has been an active participant during the interim in efforts to make court fees and fines more predictable and transparent while maintaining the amount of income they generate.
Access to Justice
Our second legislative priority is access to justice, including funding for both civil and criminal legal services for indigent Oregonians. The public safety system depends on funding indigent criminal defense: failure to provide counsel for indigent defendants effectively stops criminal adjudications, since appointed counsel is a constitutional right. There is no constitutional right to counsel in civil cases, and the current legal services network — overwhelmed even before the recession — is now buried under an avalanche of divorces, foreclosures and public benefits cases. The bar will attempt to maintain the current system of funding for legal services through dedicated court filing fees.
And finally, as always, the bar will work to pass the law improvement proposals that sections brought forward during the interim. To review these proposals, go to http://osbpublicaffairs.homestead.com/2011LIPs/List.Proposals.pdf.