Chief Justice Reiber says courts must be restructured

09/18/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) Vermont Supreme Court Justice Paul Reiber says the state's judicial system needs to be restructured to ensure that Vermonters receive timely access to Vermont's legal system.

Reiber says the changes are needed because recent budget cuts have made it difficult for the Judiciary to meet its obligations.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) To deal with recent budget rescissions, all Vermont courts are closed a half a day week, and court employees face one furlough day a month. In addition, there are 35 vacancies in court positions.

A special commission is considering a number of recommendations to help reduce costs in the court system.  One proposal streamlines the state's 63 various courts into a system where the Superior court in each county is given the administrative responsibility for local district, family and probate courts.

Speaking on VPR's Vermont Edition, Chief Justice Paul Reiber said the court system must find ways to become more efficient:

(Reiber) "We have built the system in this state on a concept of free access to justice but right now we are in a position where because the funding is so short we have to begin to try to make some decisions about what the priorities are and across the board cuts which is how we have been proceeding thus far simply don't address these priority cases that the state has."

(Kinzel) Associate Justice John Dooley says the budget cuts have had a major impact.  For instance, he says the reductions have caused long delays in the resolution of parental rights cases:

(Dooley) "I point this out because those are exactly the kinds of cases where a prompt disposition is absolutely critical to a justice system and exactly where we are not going to get it if we continue on the current track."

(Kinzel) The commission will also consider a recommendation to reduce the judicial authority of side judges. 

Two of these judges usually sit on Superior Court and Family Court cases with a State judge. 

They also deal with uncontested divorces, traffic court cases, and small claims court cases on their own.

Side judges don't have to be lawyers and that's a concern to Justice Rieber because he says they sometimes deal with complicated legal issues:                                                                                                      

(Reiber) "They are not less complex to the people who have taken a day off from work to go to traffic court to fight a speeding ticket because their license is threatened to be removed...if they're facing higher insurance premiums because of that and they deserve quality justice they deserve a law trained judges that hear those cases."

(Kinzel) The commission will also consider a recommendation to close courthouses in Grand Isle and Essex Counties.

The panel is expected to vote on a final plan in the middle of next month.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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