by Max Brantley
Arkansas judges are meeting this afternoon to discuss a money shortage in the fund that pays their administrative assistants, the people who manage dockets, handle phones and do other duties. The developing shortage, which nobody has yet explained, could mean a 17 percent cut in their pay the rest of the year if money isn't found or another alternative comes forward.
I've been getting some notes on the meeting (no, not from my wife, who was to preside at a trial today). I'm reluctant to mention the issue at all given my conflict of interest, but I can relay notes: Chief Justice Jim Hannah has said he'll talk to Gov. Mike Beebe about potential emergency help. One judge has suggested spreading the pain among all aspects of court operation (judges' pay, too, presumably) rather than letting one type of employee bear the brunt. A number of questions have been directed at the administrative office of the courts for failing to pick up on the declining fund, when the problem began seven months ago, and asking why it's happening since the number of cases on which fees are based hasn't declined. In fact, figures show an increase.
The judges, meeting as the Judicial Council, according to my source: Voted for Hannah to ask the governor to shift revenues to cover or to call a special session; favored a pro rata pay reduction rather than 19 days of furlough if the assistants have to shoulder the shortfall.
The Legislative Council, in response to a request from Sen. Michael Lamoureux, came up with these ideas to cover the $786,000 shortfall in assistants' pay.