Beebe avoids judicial topics; Justice Hannah doesn't | Arkansas Blog

Beebe avoids judicial topics; Justice Hannah doesn't

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JUSTICE FOR ALL: Chief Justice Hannah calls for equal treatment of judges and their staff members.
  • JUSTICE FOR ALL: Chief Justice Hannah calls for equal treatment of judges and their staff members.
Gov. Mike Beebe spoke this morning in Hot Springs to the Arkansas Judicial Council Arkansas Bar Association. One member of the audience (not my wife, she's in Little Rock) tells me Beebe did not mention any subjects specific to the administration of justice.

No mention, in other words, of the fact that Beebe has left 120 trial court assistants to the changing fortunes of a court fee fund for their salaries, rather than treating them like all other regular state employees and covering them with general legislative appropriation support.

He also didn't mention judges' pay, frozen for three years. But that would have been a delicate dance in a world in which one branch, the legislative, sets judicial pay; another, the executive, proposes and signs off on that legislation, and the beneficiary of that decision, the judiciary, often has cause to review the work of the people who control their pay.

CONFLICT DISCLOSURE: My wife, as I've mentioned regularly, is a circuit judge. She retires at the end of this year. Future pay decisions are moot as far as she is concerned.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah will speak to the group soon. I'll provide a copy of his remarks when available.

UPDATE: I understand Hannah dished up vanilla. No direct debate with the governor. However, he did touch some points of ongoing disagreement...

He did mention a potential effort in the next legislature to move the court assistants into general fund coverage along with other state employees. He said that would be a difficult battle and require help from all. He noted that the alternative — continuing to pay the assistants from a fund financed by court fees — has inherent problems. That is, judges are making decisions in cases that affect the amount of money that goes into a fund that pays their employees. The fund's problems can't be put at the feet of judges, though. A drop in tickets and warrants seems to be the major contributor.

A heavy reliance on fees also limits access to justice for the poor. Depletion of the fund, sometimes for non-judicial uses, also reduces financial support for courthouse security. Last year, a trial assistant in Crawford County was shot during a gunman's outburst. Drug courts, too, will be affected, though they hold promise of rehabilitation and reduction of prison costs.

Justice Hannah did mention that judges, unlike every other state employee, were entering a fourth year without any pay increase, COLA or otherwise. He believes it's hard to attract good candidates if they can expect to be singled out for unequal treatment.

He also commended the task force on judicial campaigns I mentioned earlier and said he was happy that elections here so far have been free of out-of-state big money attacks.

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