ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s top judge says the state Legislature is “jeopardizing public safety” by failing to adequately fund the state court system.
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea made a public comment Wednesday as lawmakers are finalizing a court budget.
It’s unusual for a Supreme Court justice to step out from behind the bench. It’s rare when a Minnesota chief justice does so.
Gildea is speaking out publicly after state lawmakers failed to pass what she calls an urgent request for court funding.
“We are facing some challenges in the judiciary right now that impact our ability to provide timely access to justice for all in Minnesota,” she said.
Minnesota courts make up about 1.5 percent of the state budget, about $325 million a year.
Without a $50 million increase, drug treatment courts might close, court interpreters are at risk, cybersecurity is threatened, and there’ll be no pay hikes for 317 judges and 2,500 court staff, Gildea says.
She feels so strongly about a court crisis, she’s the first chief justice in modern times to testify before a legislative committee.
“The judiciary is not a mere state agency,” Gildea said. “The judiciary is a branch of government, and it deserves to be funded as such.”
Minnesota courts heard 1.3 million cases last year. Among them were criminal cases, which were up 12 percent, and child protection cases, which are up 50 percent over the last 5 years.
The court can’t keep pace with less funding, Gildea says.
Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), the chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said in a statement that while he sympathizes with Gildea’s concerns, lawmakers are focused on other projects, such as police training and prohibiting protesting on freeways.