BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Supreme Court has announced court furlough days stretching into 2012, which it hopes will save the state $1 million and the counties $1.2 million.
Patricia Gabel, director of Court Improvement and Innovation, said the furlough days will affect all courts except for two that will remain on hand to conduct emergency proceedings related to public safety. She said furlough days have been used since the beginning of the state’s budget crisis, and have included one half-day closing a week.
With the restructuring of the judiciary, the half-day closings were eliminated last year.
Not a surprise
She said the furloughs are not a surprise to court personnel, as the fiscal situation hasn’t changed and the appropriations to the courts didn’t go up. She said the Supreme Court is committed to giving people access to justice, but cases are taking longer to resolve.
The courts have "clearance rate" goals for cases, she said. When the budget cuts were put into place no change was seen immediately, and once the courts are funded in full again it will be some time before the rate of clearance comes back into line.
Administrative Judge Amy Davenport said the statistics she keeps run from September to August, and in 2007 of that cycle there were 18,584 cases disposed, meaning that they were settled in some fashion. In the 2009-10 cycle, only 17,249 cases were disposed.
She said fewer cases have been filed, but the drop in filed cases isn’t matching the number disposed in a manner she’d like to see. "The best explanation I have is furlough days and half-day closings," she said.
More troubling numbers come from the number of felony cases being disposed. For the 2007 cycle, there were 3,553 cases, whereas in 2009-10, there were 3,296. Some of that can be attributed to an increase in felonies, but not all, she said.
Another area of court slowdown is in motions filed after a divorce or other family case has been settled. In 2007, 26 percent of those post-case motions were past the target time set for disposal, while as of May 2011, 34 percent are past target.
She said there isn’t much the courts can do about it. "Once you get a back-log, it takes a lot of work to get rid of it," Davenport said.
Juvenile cases don’t seem to be affected as much, she added, but those generally carry a higher priority.
The furlough schedule for all courts can be found at www.vermontjudiciary.org. The schedule for Bennington County courts for 2011 is: May 6, June 3 and 24, July 29, Aug. 26, Sept. 23, Oct. 21, and Dec. 16. For 2012, courts will be closed Jan. 27, Feb. 24, March 16, April 20, May 18, and June 15.
The recent restructuring saw Bennington Probate Court consolidate to having one Probate judge mainly based in Bennington, while positions within the court were streamlined.