In September the Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady requested a loan from Governor Scott and the legislative budget chairs in order for the courts to be able to continue operating normally. This week a loan “not to exceed $45.6 million” was approved; this is the figure that Chief Justice Canady feels sufficient to allow the courts to operate normally until March 2012 at which time the Legislature would have to look again at the remaining balance. This fiscal year is the second consecutive year that court filing fees have not met the expected levels.
In 2009 the legislature diverted court funding to the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund from general revenues. It was estimated that the Trust Fund would generate $432 million this fiscal year but this estimate has since been recalculated to $272.9 million. The failure of mortgage foreclosure filing fees to meet expectations is the main reason for the downgrading of the estimate. A number of banks and loan providers have put a freeze on foreclosures due to the furore caused by the robo-signing scandal.
It is not the case that the court system is overspending on the budget set for it by the legislature rather it is the perhaps over optimistic projections of court incomes that has given rise to this problem. Before an earlier loan of $19.5 million was granted in April this year contingency plans were drawn up to deal with the funding deficit, these measures included unpaid leave for staff, case managers being laid off and closing courtrooms for 14 days during a 2 month period.
Justice and the ability of courts to provide access to it depend upon there being sufficient consistent funding available. Investigations into this are presently being undertaken and recommendations are expected by November 1.