The State of New Hampshire budget for the 2010 biennium is in trouble. Every day the numbers change and income projections fail to live up to expectations. Approximately $150 million must be cut from the current budget soon. The judiciary and court system must cut as well. According to recent reports, the court system must find an additional $5 million dollars in its current budget to cut. If you are reading this article, then it is likely that you have needed legal services within the recent past. Do these cuts matter and does it effect you?
Only a small fraction of New Hampshire residents are involved in the court system. The majority of New Hampshire residents will never set foot in a New Hampshire court. However, when they do, it is reasonable to expect that their matter will be given the attention it deserves.
In the recent past as the State budget crisis evolved, the court budget shrank. The most obvious impact has been the reduction in court personnel. Our Superior Court system is designed to have 26 full time trial judges. Last year, the Governor appointed four judges bringing the total to 24. Since then, four have either retired or announced their retirement to occur within the next few months. Most believe that the Governor will not appoint replacements in the short term as judges are the most “expensive” personnel in the Court system budget.
In addition and perhaps more significantly, many supporting staff have left and not been replaced. Although there have been no forced terminations, the Court system has announced four furlough days when the Courts will be closed. Most expect more furloughs and employee layoffs. Thus, the system as we knew it a few short years ago has been and will continue to be significantly burdened.
Criminal matters always take priority on the Court calendar because of the constitutional issues involved. This means that civil matters are likely to be pushed back on the court calender to accommodate the reduced number of court days and the inability to get the work done with the staff and judges that remain. The civil court system has always been an expensive process to resolve disputes. As the State budget crisis continues, the burdens of the process will likely increase.
If a dispute is beginning to develop that affects you, you should carefully consider the impact of the unknown variable of how and when the matter could be resolved in Court. Although it may be difficult to make a payment that you dispute or accept less than you believe your are entitled to, there may be a significant advantage to resolving the matter through negotiation sooner rather than at some unknown date in the distant future. A dispute that in years past would have been resolved in Court in nine months to a year may now take significantly longer. Speedy justice may not be so speedy anymore.