News Item
Chief Justice Gildea Testifies On The Importance Of Justice System Funding Before Legislative Committee

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2017

On Thursday, April 20, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea testified before the House-Senate conference committee on S.F. 803, the omnibus judiciary and public safety finance bill. This marked the first time in modern history a Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice testified before a legislative budget conference committee.
The Chief Justice’s remarks focused on the importance of justice system funding and the need to preserve a high-functioning court system in Minnesota. A copy of her prepared remarks are presented below:
I am told that this is the first time, at least in modern memory, that the Chief Justice has testified before a conference committee on the Judicial Branch budget.  Judges are creatures of precedent and we do not lightly depart from our precedent.  I depart from precedent today however because of the urgency of the question we confront in this Legislative Session.  I am here today to urge you to fully fund the budget request that the judiciary submitted. 
The judiciary is not a mere state agency.  The judiciary is a branch of government and it deserves to be funded as such. 
A vibrant judiciary is essential to a well-functioning democracy.  The courts are vital to government’s basic function of protecting public safety, ensuring individual rights, and providing a forum for the orderly and civil resolution of disputes.  When everything else breaks down, the courts are where the people come, and they come to us seeking justice. 
Despite the constitutional magnitude of our work, the Judicial Branch accounts for less than two percent of the state’s general fund. 
Members, the Judicial Branch, often described as the third branch, looks to the other branches now, the legislative and the executive branches, to fulfill your constitutional obligation: providing the funding needed to operate Minnesota’s court system.
Minnesota’s Judicial Branch is facing a series of challenges that threaten our ability to process cases in a timely manner, ensure access to justice, and sustain important innovations.
To address these challenges, the Branch brought forward a modest, targeted budget request that will ensure our courts can continue to meet our constitutional obligation: to guarantee all Minnesotans access to justice freely, promptly, and without delay. 
Please understand that there are real consequences to your constituents and your communities in these budget decisions.
Public safety is jeopardized when we do not have a fully-funded functioning judiciary.
If our courts don’t have enough judges and qualified staff, our rising caseloads will delay access to justice for citizens and businesses, and we know that justice delayed is justice denied.
We risk violating the constitutional rights of Minnesotans if we can’t find qualified court interpreters or pay for psychological exams for court participants.
The private data and records our courts maintain will be put at risk if we can’t implement needed cybersecurity improvements.
Just today, the Judicial Council was discussing which drug courts, veterans’ courts, or other treatment court programs may have to close down if our request is not fully-funded.   
Members, these are the very real consequences for our justice system, our citizens, and our state if our courts are not adequately funded.  And I wanted to make sure that you heard about these consequences from me.  
Justice system funding; funding for the courts, the public defenders, civilian legal aid, and guardian ad litems, has long been a bipartisan priority in Minnesota, and, especially given the state’s fiscal stability, it must remain a priority this Session as well.
On behalf of Minnesota’s Judicial Branch and the people of Minnesota, I urge you to act to preserve a high-functioning court system in Minnesota – the system our citizens expect, the system our citizens deserve, and the system our constitution commands.  Thank you for listening and thank you for your service.