Law and order isn’t just a television series; it is —or should be — a serious priority for every level of government. But for the second time in three years, the Kansas Legislature is letting budget games disrupt the work of courts that are a vital part of maintaining law and order.
Starting Friday and continuing every other Friday through June 8, courts throughout the state will be closed because of shortages of funds. That adds up to five days, the equivalent of a full work week, that the justice system will be set back. Maybe there are courts elsewhere in Kansas that are completely able to absorb the lost time, but the Eighth District Court that serves Marion County has its hands full even without unwelcome closures.
Ultimately, the criminal justice system will go on. Judges will be on-call for search warrants, emergency protection-from-abuse orders, and other urgent needs. There will probably be a backlog of hearings, but the courts will eventually catch up with those cases. The people who may suffer the most are people who normally don’t have court business but need assistance now: an entrepreneur who needs to file a small claims suit to get payment, for example.
The most upsetting thing about the situation is that it could have been avoided. In fact, it seemed as if the legislature was set to head off just such a problem, right up until the legislature went on spring recess. It seems like a group that includes as many attorneys as the legislature does (estimates say 15 percent of state legislators nationwide are attorneys) would understand the importance of keeping the courts open.
State Rep. J. Robert Brookens writes this week that another piece of court-related legislative business (which he opposed) was a response to perceived overreaching by Kansas courts. Is it possible the legislature delayed court funding to flex its figurative muscles and show the courts who’s the boss? Brookens clearly respects the courts’ role, and even if he didn’t, I’m certain he wouldn’t be so petty. But I don’t know other legislators well enough to say for sure.
With so many people involved in the decision-making process, it’s impossible to know why exactly the supplemental funding didn’t make it through. Regardless of the reason, though, it is a failure of the legislature’s leadership.
— Adam Stewart