THE MOST immediate and alarming of the city's problems resulting from its shortage of money is that the Superior Court may have to close down most of its operations this summer. So far, neither the Senate nor the House has included the extra money, $1.2 million, necessary for the courts to get through July, August and September, the last three months of the fiscal year. According to Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie, the court has run out of money for paying witnesses and will have spent all the money for paying jurors by July 15.
The effect of this close-down on the courts and the criminal justice system could be devastating. A backlog of cases would be created that could burden the courts for years. And that of the rights of people being held in already overcrowded city jails as they await trial? This city does have a speedy trial rule that apparently will be violated if all criminal, juvenile and jury trials are postponed for over two months.
This crisis has come about, in part, because Mayor Barry did not support the court's request for added funds before either the city council or Congress. The court's request for extra money was not forwarded by the mayor to either of those bodies. It could have been a part of the city's supplemental request for money to be added to this year's budget. Gladys Mack, the city's budget director, says the Barry administration did not support the court request because the court was expected to make sacrifices in spending just as any other city agency. But the chief judge argues that the court could not be expected to cut back its spending when it was not funded this fiscal year for $550,000 in employees' pay raises and underfunded by $650,000 for paying jurors and witnesses. As a result, Judge Moultrie says any request for the courts to reduce spending was made in relation to a budget that was already inadequate to meet the court's needs.
With the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House not yet offering more money for the court, the main hope for keeping it open this usmmer lies with Mayor Barry. He could make a special request of Congress, lending his weight to the court's drive for more money. But if that fails, he should shift funds from other programs to the courts. Something must be done to keep the courts open.