Call to Order and Roll Call
The4th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary was held on Friday, September 5, 2014, at 10:00 AM, at the Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort, KY. Representative John Tilley, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Whitney Westerfield, Co-Chair; Representative John Tilley, Co-Chair; Senators Perry B. Clark, Carroll Gibson, Sara Beth Gregory, Ray S. Jones II, John Schickel, Dan "Malano" Seum, Katie Stine; Representatives Robert Benvenuti III, Jesse Crenshaw, Joseph M. Fischer, Kelly Flood, Joni L. Jenkins, Thomas Kerr, Stan Lee, Mary Lou Marzian, Reginald Meeks, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, and Brent Yonts.
Guests: Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr.
State of the Judiciary Address
After a brief introduction, Chief Justice John Minton Jr. presented the State of the Judiciary address.
Chief Justice Minton spoke of the changes that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has undergone. In November of 2013, AOC moved to its new location on Vandalay Drive in Frankfort. AOC is now able to own its own building and forgo lease payments, having spent $16.7 million since 1987 on its old leased location. The AOC also saved $800,000 off the original purchase price and approximately $1 million a year in lease payments. This building move has also been beneficial to AOC staff, who now work in a single building instead of five. The move benefits state government, as the building has hosted 43 meetings for other state agencies in 2014.
Better Service through Court Technology
Chief Justice Minton believes that the key to better courts is technology, and the eCourt program will effectively and efficiently improve the court system. The eCourt program will upgrade technological infrastructure, replace the current systems for trial and appellate courts, and will electronically store an index of all court documents. He discussed the substantial amount of money that e-filing will save individuals and the state. Since December 2013, AOC has been working to improve the eCourts system. Pilots have been set up in 18 counties. By the end of 2015, AOC plans to have this system available statewide.
Approximately 4,000 users have subscribed to Kentucky’s CourtNet 2.0 since it was launched in March 2013. The program provides real time access to civil and criminal cases in Kentucky, and is available to members of the Kentucky Bar Association, judges, justices, court clerks, and offices within state government. CourtNet 2.0 will be provided to law enforcement, media, and the public by the end of 2014.
Accounts Receivable Project
Fifty-six counties participate in AOC’s accounts receivable system, allowing funds to be reported to the state general fund electronically. AOC plans to have this system fully implemented in every county by the end of 2015. A restitution model is being developed that will calculate interest owed on court ordered restitution. Once it is fully developed and tested, the model will be released as part of the accounts receivable system.
Improving Pretrial Services
The Kentucky Pretrial Services program continues to be a model for other states, having produced measurable positive results. Crime has been reduced 15 percent among defendants on pretrial release. There has also been an increase in the number of defendants released before trial. In July 2014, the Arnold Foundation released a study stating, in part, that “Kentucky judges have reduced crime, reduced jail populations, and led to a smarter, more effective use of criminal justice resources.”
Judicial Branch Compensation Plan
With the passage of House Bill 238, the general fund appropriation was increased and funding was secured for the judicial branch’s comprehensive Compensation Plan. In July 2014, all nonelected employees in the judicial branch received a salary adjustment under the Judicial Branch Compensation Plan. Nonelected court personnel will receive an annual raise for both years of the budget cycle. The bill also allowed circuit court clerks to achieve pay parity with other elected county officials.
Elected judges have not received a raise in their compensation since a one percent increase in 2008. In Kentucky, judges earn 17.5 percent less than their counterparts in the national average and rank 7th among the 8 surrounding states. Chief Justice Minton expressed his concern that inadequate salaries and a reduction in pension benefits may hamper efforts to attract the best lawyers to take the bench.
Juvenile Justice Reform
AOC is working on implementation of Senate Bill 200, which calls for AOC to offer enhanced services through its Court Designated Worker Program, collaborate on data sharing and collection, provide more case management services, and develop training for staff and community partners. AOC has made progress in all of these areas.
Circuit Court Clerk Conduct Commission
The Circuit Court Clerk Conduct Commission was established by Supreme Court order in January 2013. This commission will investigate and conduct hearings on all alleged misconduct. The first Circuit Court Clerk Code of Conduct, which sets ethical standards for Circuit Court Clerks, was implemented this year.
Judicial Center Construction
The six judicial centers that have been under construction since October 2013 have now been completed. New judicial centers have also been authorized in Henry and Nicholas counties, with funding deferred to the next budget cycle. There are no new facilities under construction at this time.
2014 Election Will Bring New Judges
AOC will be hosting a comprehensive New Judges Orientation in December 2014. This orientation will help new judges prepare to take the bench and will include several different sessions on judicial ethics and conduct, civil proceedings, criminal issues, jury management, case management, probate, and family law.
Kentucky Drug Court
Kentucky Drug Court is a success for the state, but it is facing some small difficulties. In October 2010, Kentucky Drug Court was serving nearly 3000 participants, but now that number is only at 2,366. This decrease is due to budget cuts, insufficient staffing, and modified schedules for drug testing. Chief Justice Minton also stated that penal code reform has contributed to the decline in Drug Court numbers, with many defendants choosing the less-restrictive sentencing options available under House Bill 463.
Three areas of improvement have been identified by the AOC in order to meet changing needs of this program:
1) High Risk/High Need. National research shows that Drug Court is most effective among high risk and high need defendants. In order to reach a higher level of service, additional funding will be needed.
2) Evidence-Based Practices. In order to carry out the evidence-based practices required in House Bill 463, Drug Court judges and staff will require ongoing training.
3) Increasing Participant Numbers. The length and the demands of the program can result in defendants opting for less restrictive sentencing alternatives.
Chief Justice Minton suggested that a well-structured expungement process for Drug Court graduates would give defendants an incentive to choose Drug Court in lieu of other sentencing options. He stressed the benefits of Drug Court, which include significant savings to the court system, state prisons, and county jails. Encouraging more defendants to choose Drug Court would likely result in fewer convictions because defendants get the help that they need.
Judicial Workload Study
A statewide judicial workload study is required by the Judicial Branch budget bill. This study will evaluate caseloads across the state using a process that can quantify caseloads while considering jurisdictional idiosyncrasies. A Judicial Workload Assessment Committee has also been appointed that is comprised of judges from each level of the court system, circuit court clerks, and prosecutors. AOC has contracted with the National Center for State Courts, and will begin this study in October.
Responding to a question from Senator Schickel regarding the confidentiality of minors requesting a judicial bypass for abortion, Chief Justice Minton said he is unsure of the answer but will look into it and discuss it with the committee at a later time.
Responding to a question from Representative Rudy, Chief Justice Minton said that AOC buildings are assessed and put onto a priority list. Representative Rudy asked about the Circuit Court Clerk Conduct Commission, to which Chief Justice Minton replied that information on the code of conduct and membership is available on the website.
Responding to a question from Representative Yonts, Chief Justice Minton said that a standardized way of counting caseloads is needed.
Responding to a question from Representative Yonts, Chief Justice Minton said that the Criminal Rules Committee is reviewing the American Bar Association death penalty study.
Responding to a request from Senator Stine, Chief Justice Minton said he will do his best to get more information on judicial bypass cases for abortion in Kentucky.
Responding to a question from Senator Jones, Chief Justice Minton said that the Compensation Commission has looked into various models to get a benchmark on compensation for judges. He is trying to address the pension issue in Kentucky and hopes to get further information.
Responding to a question from Senator Gregory regarding courthouse security, Chief Justice Minton stated that security is taken into account when it comes to the construction priority list, and that AOC tries to set security standards.
Responding to a question from Senator Seum, Chief Justice Minton said that in some places in Kentucky, circuit court clerks are earning higher wages than judges. Senator Seum asked about the requirements to become a circuit court clerk, and the Chief Justice replied that there is an exam but the position does not require a law degree. Responding to another question, Chief Justice Minton said that eWarrants are statewide.
Responding to a question from Senator Gibson, Chief Justice Minton deferred to Director Laurie Dudgeon, who said that funding is broken down in particular areas in the budget. Senator Gibson inquired about security of the eFile system, to which Chief Justice Minton said that security is a concern, which is why AOC is taking time to establish the system.
Representative Fischer asked Chief Justice Minton’s opinion on how to curb the heroin problem in Kentucky. Chief Justice Minton replied that handling a heroin user in Drug Court is challenging. Drug Court employees and those who work in the field could be of help to the legislature.
The meeting adjourned at 12:00 PM.