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Budget deal saves courts from ‘virtual shut down’ of system

The Arizona Supreme Court was able to work out a deal allowing the Legislature to take money from a variety of smaller accounts rather than a larger, more critical one that lawmakers were targeting.

The original budget proposed a $12 million sweep of the Supreme Court Automation Fund, an account that touches nearly every court in the state. Its loss would have crippled the court system, court officials said.

Instead, the money, $6 million a year, will be swept from eight other funds in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. The sweep includes $5 million each year from the Juvenile Probation Services Fund, which provides intervention services for teenagers on probation.

“It proves the old adage that if you shake the judicial branch of government hard enough, an apple eventually falls out,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Jerry Landau, a court lobbyist, said the court is still evaluating how the various accounts will be affected.

“There will be impacts on any of these funds, but certainly not anything like the automation fund that would have virtually shut down the whole court system and the connectivity among all the courts and all the outside agencies,” Landau said.

He said no agency wants to see money swept, but the court also understood the state has needs.

“You’re walking through hard choices no matter how you do it,” Landau said.

The adopted budget forbids the court from charging political subdivisions fees to offset the sweeps.

The proposed budget had $6 million to be transferred from the automation fund for each of the next two fiscal years.

The automation fund is supplied by fees for defensive-driving classes, fees for people who pay their court fines on installments, and surcharges on fines.

The fund is meant for automation for the state’s entire court system.

Its many uses include the electronic transmittal of citations from police to the courts, transmittal of dispositions from the courts to Motor Vehicle Division and Department of Public Safety and the juvenile and adult probation systems.

Without the fund, courts would be left to process cases manually, causing long delays for people wanting to access the courts and putting criminal cases in danger of being dismissed for missing deadlines.

Kavanagh said that when the court informed lawmakers about the devastating effects of sweeping the fund, they countered with an offer of taking just $6 million, but the court said that would still have a significant impact and then offered up money from the various accounts totaling $12 million over the next two fiscal years.

Probation departments took the biggest hit with the $5 million transfer, but they are able to absorb it because they have recently gotten an increase in federal money, said Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court.

During discussions between the courts and Republicans, Democrats claimed the sweep was punishment for the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Independent Redistricting Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis after Gov. Jan Brewer and the GOP-led Senate kicked her off the panel.

Republicans have denied the accusation, but Landau wouldn’t say whether any Republicans admitted to it during closed-door discussions.

“Our idea with this whole thing was to work with the House and the Senate and the Ninth Floor to deal with the budgetary and automation issues,” Landau said. “If you go back and look, we’ve done that year

(after) year. We do it every year and this year is no different.”

Arizona court funds

swept for the general fund:

• State Aid to Courts Fund — $50,000 Used to for processing criminal cases in Superior Court and Justice Courts.

• Alternative Dispute Resolution — $200,000 Supplements local funding for local courts for alternative dispute resolution programs.

• Arizona Lengthy Trial Fund — $100,000 To compensate jurors who serve on juries lasting longer than five days.

• Public Defender Training Fund — $25,000 County public defender training.

• Judicial Collection Enhancement Fund — $400,000 Used to manage money collected by the courts for restitution, child support, fines and civil penalties and improve automation projects.

• Criminal Justice Enhancement Fund — $75,000 Used to reduce juvenile crime, process criminal and delinquency cases, pay salaries of Superior Court judges and provide drug treatment to adults on probation.

• Drug Treatment and Education Fund — $150,000 For drug treatment and education.

• Juvenile Probation and Services Fund — $5 million Used for intervention services for youth on probation.

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