THE CHIEF judges of the city's Court of Appeals and Superior Court have told Congress and the District council that the city has not given them enough money to stay open this summer. Despite those strong words of warning by the chief judges, requests for an additional $1.2 million for the court system's budget are not being supported by the mayor. Gladys Mack, the city's budget director, explains that in a citywide budget crisis every city agency has to bear the burden of cutting its budget -- and that includes the court system.
Well, of course, every agency should help. But the courts have been asked to bear an especially heavy burden. According to the chief judges, they are being asked to make reductions in a budget that was already inadequate to see them through the fiscal year.
The Superior Court, for example, was not funded for $550,000 in employees' pay raises, and it was underfunded by $650,000 for paying jurors and witnesses. By July, it is estimated, the court will run out of money for paying witnesses, and by August money for paying jurors will be gone. The result will be an increase in the already substantial backlog of cases in the court system. Chief judge of the Superior Court, H. Carl Moultrie, complained to Congress last month: "It is inconceivable to me that the administration of justice for the citizens of the District of Columbia could be permitted to be further compromised."
Hope for avoiding the closing of the courts now lies with Congress. It is difficult to ask Congress to grant the city money that was considered unnecessary by the city's own budget office. But courts, like police and fire services, schools and traffic lights, are the basis of any city government. The mayor and the chief judges must jointly decide what amount of money is necessary to keep the courts functioning and present a united front to Congress in requesting those added funds. The court system can't just stop this summer in the nation's capital.