Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Justice delayed is justice denied

So said 19th Century British Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898).

While in court this afternoon, one judge mentioned the possibility that the courts would be closed for 4 days next week and 10 days in May because of budget issues. Apparently we won't know until Governor Rick Scott decides whether or not to approve the legislature's loan to temporarily fund this extremely important branch of government. Today's Sentinel reports:
Gov. Rick Scott says he remains optimistic that lawmakers will deliver his corporate tax cuts over the next month on top of the roughly $4 billion in cuts the Legislature is proposing for classrooms, health-care for the poor and benefit cuts to public workers. Click here for the rest of the article. I will try to refrain from getting on a soapbox about the possibility of giving corporations $458 million when we can't /won't fund our own courts.
So where does public safety fit in? After all, that's what our judiciary is tasked with enforcing. A year or two ago, the justice system comprised only 3% of the State budget. It wouldn't surprise me if it's less than that now.

A justice system that is incapable of doing its job will one day implode. In my 4 years as a courtwatcher, I have seen the number of prosecutors in the courtroom diminish. I have seen an increase in the number of "Expiration of Speedy" notices on the court dockets. I have seen defendants receive minimal consequences for their crimes with plea bargains because savvy defense attorneys know that the State can't possibly bring every case to trial. 

The irony is that by closing the courts, we will incur additional expenses in having to house inmates for lengthier periods of time as they await their day in court. Families in the throes of divorce or custody battles will have to wait longer to see a judge, thus ratcheting up these volatile situations into a higher potential for violence. Further creating more of a burden on the justice system, which then teaches the majority of criminals that the consequences for breaking the law won't be too severe until you have a few felony convictions under your belt.

US Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger once noted:
A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people and three things could destroy that confidence and do incalculable damage to society: that people come to believe that inefficiency and delay will drain even a just judgment of its value; that people who have long been exploited in the smaller transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights from fraud and over-reaching; that people come to believe the law - in the larger sense - cannot fulfill its primary function to protect them and their families in their homes, at their work, and on the public streets.
Burger, What's Wrong With the Courts: The Chief Justice Speaks Out, U.S. News & World Report (vol. 69, No. 8, Aug. 24, 1970) 68, 71 (address to ABA meeting, Aug. 10, 1970).
Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

For the accused, their victims, and our community.

Click here for more on the story.  Send an email to the governor to tell him how foolish it would be to not approve this funding.

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