(Host) The state’s top judge says justice is not being served in Vermont. Chief Justice Paul Reiber is urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve a plan that would consolidate administration of state courts under the Supreme Court.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Chief Justice Reiber was blunt with members of the committee. He said current budget cuts have forced the courts to be closed two and a half days a month – it’s a situation that he says is causing long delays of important cases:
(Reiber) "We are facing a compromise in the application of the rule of law in this state in a proportion that is unthinkable."
And Reiber says the current situation can’t be allowed to continue in the future:
(Reiber) "I struggle every day with whether I should make an apology to the Vermonters, to the people of this state for the fact that we’re closed two and half days a month. That’s not right senator. That is not right."
Reiber wants the Senate to support legislation passed by the House last month that unifies the state’s five courts under the administration of the Vermont Supreme Court.
He says the plan is needed to ensure that a consistent management policy is implemented at the state and county level. He says the lack of this kind of policy has led to a lot of conflict between some county and state court employees:
(Reiber) "There’s anger that has developed around it that exists. People expect the worst of one another in some way – we can’t make this system work with this sort of divisiveness."
(Kinzel) Reiber wants lawmakers to reduce the responsibilities of assistant judges and to cut back on the number of probate judges.
That recommendation is not sitting well with many of Vermont’s assistant judges including Bennington side judge Jim Colvin. He says the assistant judges play a critical role in the state’s judicial system because they’re elected at the county level:
(Colvin) "We don’t have an elected judiciary except for probate and assistant judges and for the people to have a voice in their judiciary the assistant judges provide that for the people and we’re there to be there for the people as finders of fact in Superior and Family Court issues. And we feel that that’s an important aspect of the overall quality of judicial function in the state of Vermont."
(Kinzel) And Colvin doesn’t share Justice Reiber’s concerns about the management of the county court system:
(Colvin) "Regardless of how this bill ends up I want to reassure him that the assistant judges are going to do everything in their power to be as cooperative as we can and to work together because we do feel that we’re all in this together."
(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary committee will hold a public hearing on this proposal next Wednesday at the Statehouse.
For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.