State judges looking to increase budgets for courts

Posted at: 11/13/2012 5:43 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News

New Mexico judges are on a mission to get the state's overloaded court system some help. That means money, and that's what brought some top judges to the state capitol Tuesday.

They came from all over the state to testify before the Legislative Finance Committee, a powerful panel of lawmakers who will craft the next state budget.

When tax dollars dried up in the great recession, the courts saw their budgets shrink like everybody else's. Now they would like to get back some of what they lost.

The courts are looking for an increase of about three percent. At about $141 million, that's a pretty slim slice of the state's estimated $5.5 billion budget.

"The cuts we've experienced are really catching up with us now," said Judith Nakamura, presiding judge of Albuquerque's Metro Court. "It's everything from a lack of resources, staff, judges, maintenance on the buildings, keeping up with increased costs from gas and electric bills."

"We also have security issues in many of the courthouses," said Judge Sarah Backus of the 8th Judicial District in Taos. "There's at times no bailiff or they don't have security equipment and the courthouses can be volatile."

Will they get the money? Maybe some of it. A lot of the state's projected increase in revenues comes from oil production, and those prices are always going up and down. You can't count on it being steady.

One thing that sparked some discussion on the committee: The maintenance crew at Metro Court would like to get a new pickup truck. The one they've got is a 1999 Chevy.