INTERIM COMMISSION TO STUDY FISCAL STABILITY
03:25 PM -- Judicial System
The commission reconvened.
Mr. Gerald (Jerry) Marroney, the State Court Administrator of Colorado, began his presentation by giving the commission members an overview of the budget of the judicial branch and its major duties. He explained that the funding for Judicial Department in FY 2009-10 is about $336 million, which is the sixth-largest area of General Fund appropriations. He discussed the personnel of the judicial branch, which includes public defenders, judges, alternate defense councils, and the Office of the Child Representative. He also explained that the Judicial branch administers probation for the state. This is a large number of people the branch is required to supervise.
Mr. Marroney stated the Judicial branch enforces the Constitutional rights of everyone else, and the branch must balance the rights of various people, including children and other citizens. It also protects the rights of the businesses in Colorado. The department currently has 216 vacant positions. He said the budget is 88 percent personnel, and when the department makes expenditure cuts it has to implement furlough days or eliminate staff.
Mr. Marroney continued his presentation, stating the department needs $25 million to prevent personnel reductions. He said when the state makes a cut to the department, it decreases the ability to get something through the court system. He discussed electronic transfers of funds for defenders and other individuals and areas. The department also collects $189 million dollars in restitution and other cases, he explained.
Mr. Marroney stated that the department needs a Rainy Day fund of about $25 million. He also discussed using resources wisely and the costs of probation and prison. Probation is much cheaper than prison in many instances, he explained. The department should increase the number of probation officers by 90, as well as increase the number of judges by 70. He explained that the department is also trying to use technology and move forward with improved communications.
Senator Health asked what the Judicial Department has implemented. Mr. Marroney responded that the department has implemented a paid time-off program. Likewise, Colorado is the only court system in country that has integrated county and district courts in a state case management system. He also explained that the Judiciary has a staff evaluation and performance system that saves the state additional resources. The department is also responsible for managing a jury system. In Colorado, filings are made electronically, and Colorado is one of the few states in the nation that has a state-wide e-filing system. This system is integrated into their case management system. Mr. Marroney said that we were the first state entity that had a systems failure to test their technology.
Mr. Coors asked about the paid time-off program. Mr. Marroney explained the program allows everyone to track electronically their paid time-off, and the approval and submission process is all done electronically as well. This enables the department to monitor the program closely. Mr. Marroney also explained that voluntary furlough days by staff are saving the department about $40,000 per month. This effort has helped to prevent court closures to the public. The department is also rotating furloughs of employees to keep the courts operating.
Mr. Coors applauded how the judiciary is being run, and that the department is taking steps to improve the efficiency of its operations. He stated that the agency is allocating its resources well to meet the most immediate and pressing needs. Mr. Coors raised the question as to whether other departments in agencies in state government are currently using this practice.
Mr. Marroney responded to questions about the caseloads for judges and increasing the amount of judges. He explained that Colorado was faring well because of additional judges that were added in past years, but the state is beginning to fall behind in its caseload.
Mr. Marroney responded to commission questions about staffing. He explained there has been a hiring freeze, which has affected about 250 positions. Senator Heath asked how many of those positions are judges. Mr. Marroney stated the state cannot freeze a judge's position or reduce a judge's salary because of Colorado's Constitution. Thus, reductions have a disproportionate impact on their employees, including staff for judges and for probation officers. He continued to discuss the impacts of parole officers, risk assessments of inmates, and probations officers. He clarified that the judicial branch administers probation and the Department of Corrections administers parole.
Mr. Fagan asked whether community corrections was part of probation, and Mr. Marroney explained it is part of the Department of Public Safety. Mr. Fagan also asked if any fees are collected to pay for parole, and Mr. Marroney explained that offenders pay a fee for probations. This allows offenders to pay for that part of their own services because they are the users of the system.
The commission also discussed recidivism of individuals returning to the Judicial system. Mr. Fagan asked whether statistics are available about how many individuals come back into the system. Mr. Marroney explained that every year the Judicial department submits a recidivism report to the General Assembly. The reports have illustrated a direct correlation between the ability to properly supervise prisoners and preventing them from returning to prison. The department has implemented programs to look at these issues, and he also discussed how the type of offense makes a difference.
Representative Court asked how the current budget situation should be addressed and raised the question as to whether corrections could be part of the judicial department. Mr. Marroney expressed his thoughts about addressing the budget shortfall and the long-term fiscal situation of Colorado. He said that he doesn't want a state that doesn't have a state judiciary.
Representative Court asked about sentencing and other issues. Mr. Marroney explained that these policies are determined by the state legislature. The bulk of the branch's cases involve trial judges making sentencing decisions within the guidelines of the law. He continued to share his thoughts about the Constitution, government, and making budget decisions.
Discussion ensued about judges and sentencing. Mr. Marroney explained that a commission is being organized about making recommendations for sentencing guidelines. The goal is to receive a balanced view about state sentencing guidelines and policies.
Mr. Coors asked questions about establishing a rainy day fund and how the department would save $25 million. Mr. Marroney explained this amount represents about 10 percent of the budget. He explained that the department is considering implementing a fee that could establish some revenue. This would prevent cuts to staff in an economic downturn and allow the department to use money to fill a budget gap instead of cutting personnel. He pointed out that the agency is already giving the Highway Users Trust Fund $11 million per year. He also discussed the monitoring of probate cases, including cases involving guardians and conservators.
Ms. Boigon asked why it would be better to have a rainy day fund at the department versus keeping it in the General Fund. Mr. Marroney responded that he would want to maintain some control over this funding in his department.
Commission discussion ensued about the 250 vacancies and how this fits into the current budget. The commission also discussed the costs of a prison bed, parole, and corrections. The members also raised questions about community corrections. Mr. Marroney stated there is a commission examining this issue.
Senator Morse asked about the impact of the federal court decision U.S. v. Gary Roth. Discussion ensued, and Mr. Marroney said this issue may implicate Colorado law and may be resolved by litigation or a potential challenge to the state law. Senator Morse continued, asking about whether this would cost the state money for litigation. Mr. Marroney responded that this has not been calculated. Further discussion continued about the implications of this decision.
The commission moved the discussion to the General Fund budget for the Judicial department. The total appropriation is $336 million with public defenders and other obligations. Representative Ferrandino discussed including the additional costs of the judges and public defenders. When funding levels return, he explained that the judicial system would need about $376 million to meet the needs of Colorado.
Sen Morse explained that it takes a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly to create additional judges. Discussion ensued about adding judges. Mr. Marroney stated that the department does everything by a weighted case load (the amount of time needed for the type of case) and said that number would suffice with today's caseload. However, he explained, if the caseload increased the need would be greater. Mr. Marroney also stated that the department needs an additional 70 judges. Thus, when adding the funding needed for additional judges, the funding level for the department would be about $381 million.
Mr. Coors asked about the caseloads and how it relates to the economy. Mr. Marroney stated that probations are rising and civil caseloads (foreclosures) are also rising. He also stated there is a direct correlation between population increase and a caseload increase. The commission also discussed how judges have been added over the past decade.
Representative Court raised questions about mandatory sentencing and the numbers of judges. Mr. Marroney explained that the judges are needed to provide good justice. This is different, he explained, than for the Department of Corrections, because you can decrease this department's needed funding if sentencing laws are modified.
Mr. Hume applauded the department's efficiency. Senator Heath thanked Mr. Marroney and his staff for their time and participation.
04:46 PM -- Closing Comments
Senator Heath discussed Friday's agenda. The morning session will be higher education and the afternoon session will include corrections. He also discussed the upcoming meetings in October and November. In addition, Senator Heath explained that only legislators can vote on recommending bills to the General Assembly.
The commission adjourned.