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Commission on Judicial Operations

Frequently Asked Questions


Vermont Supreme Court
** To view the answers to any of the questions below please click on the "+" next to the topic.**

expand Q. We hear that the Vermont Court System must be restructured. Why?
expand Q. How does Vermont’s government funding crisis affect Vermonters’ rights under the Constitution?

The Vermont Judiciary is being challenged to reduce the total budget for Judicial Branch Services by very large and unprecedented amounts. Current statutes block the Supreme Court from making necessary changes to this system to preserve Vermonters’ access to courts, while at the same time saving money. As a result, Vermont courts are now closed 2 ½ days per month, which is over 10% of the normal working hours of operation.

 

There are currently forty (40) positions being held vacant, which represents roughly 12% of currently-authorized staff, while some courts remain over-staffed based on relative need.

 

During the 2009 Legislative session, with revenues still falling off a cliff, the Legislature charged the Commission on Judicial Operation with identifying an additional $1 million in FY10 budget reductions over and above the most recent budget reductions suffered by the Judiciary. On October 2, 2009, all agencies and branches of state government were asked by the Executive Branch how they would manage if there were an 8% budget reduction across state government from FY2010 levels. It is unclear what the outcome of this budget exercise will be or what the impact will be on the Judicial Branch. What is clear is that the Supreme Court must have the flexibility it needs to responsibly manage the court system through difficult times.

expand Q. What is the Commission on Judicial Operation? Who created it, and why?
expand Q. Does the Commission have the authority to restructure the courts?
No. The Commission will be making recommendations to the Supreme Court and to the Legislative Branch of state government. The Supreme Court has the constitutional responsibility to administer the Judicial Branch and to interpret the law, including determining the constitutionality of statutes passed by the Legislature. The Legislature has the power to appropriate state funds and to pass legislation. The Commission also includes members of the Executive Branch, and the Executive Branch will receive a copy of the recommendations.
expand Q. What impact will the restructuring of the court system have on access to justice for all Vermonters?
expand Q. How will Restructuring Improve the Accountability of our Courts to the Constitution and the Law?
Although the Constitution unifies the court system under the Supreme Court, the statutes preserve a hybrid state/county system that creates inefficiencies, forces redundancies in procedure and personnel, and prevents the Supreme Court from matching scarce resources to the most compelling needs. These statutes interfere with the Supreme Court’s ability to save money in cases where it makes common sense to do so in ways that will not interfere with Vermonters’ access to justice.
 
The Commission's proposals eliminate county administration of the Superior Court. The counties would retain control of county court facilities, although court administration and presiding judges would determine what judicial business would occur in the county facilities. The current state/county facility cost-sharing would continue. The county would not be required to take on any increased cost responsibilities caused by increased judicial activity in these facilities.
 
 
expand Q. Isn’t county-based court administration already accountable to taxpayers?
expand Q If the work group proposals to the Commission were to be implemented, what would be the savings for Vermont taxpayers?

 

County

State

Convert County paid employees that perform judicial functions and are necessary to staff the new configured superior court

 

 

 

$1,896,405[1]

 

 

 

-$1,896,405

Reduce middle management positions

 

0

 

$  649,907

Reallocate revenue from Small Claims Filing Fees

 

($700,000)

 

$700,000

Reduce services in Grand Isle and Essex counties

 

0

 

$ 353,588

Consolidate Probate Court

 

$ 1,126,525

Assistant Judge:  Net Savings

 

$ 288,050

TOTAL SAVINGS

$ 1,196,405

$1,221,665

 

 



[1] The total cost of all employees in the superior courts paid for by the county is $2,333,000.  Some of those employees perform non-court related county functions such as passports.  Some represent middle managers whose positions would be eliminated by the reduction in middle management resulting from consolidation of the four trial courts and reduction in services in Grand Isle and Essex.  When these personnel costs are deducted from $2,333,000, the balance is $1,896,405.

expand Q. What recommendations were made by the National Center for State Courts based on the Weighted Caseload Study that it conducted for the Vermont Judiciary?
expand Q. What were the key proposals developed by the various work groups?
  • Implementation of Technology
  • Consolidation of the Trial Courts and Management Staff
  • Full Time Probate Judges
  • Consolidation of Court Operations in Grand Isle and Essex Counties
  • Require all judges and other judicial officers to be attorneys
  • Venue Statutes to be Replaced with More Flexible Venue Rules
expand Q. Will the courts in Grand Isle County and Essex County be closed?
expand Q. Will access to Probate services be changed from the point of view of the users of the current Probate Courts?
No, except that there will be 14 court sites as opposed to 17 court sites to obtain information or to file documents.  Specialized probate services will be available at each Superior Court in the State, and the Probate Judges will travel to courthouses for judicial proceedings.  In addition, with the advent of technology, users will be able to access probate services online, as well.
expand Q. What recommendations have been made specifically related to Probate Courts?
expand Q. Why do Commission work group proposals recommend that all Vermont judges be attorneys?

The Commission has adopted Principles for Administration of the Judiciary that call for all judges to be attorneys. This is based on the widely held belief, shared by those who participated in focus groups and surveys, that Vermonters deserve judicial decisions to be made by persons who are legally educated to resolve their disputes in court. Small claims and traffic litigants may not have as much at stake as clients in larger superior court cases, those accused in criminal court, or aggrieved parents in family court, but these litigants still deserve their legal disputes to be decided by a judge trained as a lawyer. Small claims cases and traffic offenses are important to the people facing the consequences, and principles of equal justice dictate that their cases by judged by lawyers rather than lay people. Assistant judges are dedicated public servants, but are not trained as lawyers and should not be relied upon for legal analysis

expand Q. In these times of tight budgets, aren’t assistant judges an inexpensive alternative to legally trained judges?