10/21/2014

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Politics

Chief justice: Funding helps restore Oregon courts

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon's top judge says a boost in funding helped the court system better keep pace with the half-million cases that are filed each year.

In his annual "state of the courts" address in Salem on Friday, Chief Justice Thomas Balmer said the courts are improving their staffing and business hours, although they haven't completely returned to normal after the economic downturn.

"This did not come about magically. I was an advocate for 24 years before I even became a judge, and I have never worked harder as an advocate than I did as an advocate for adequate court funding," Ballmer told the Statesman Journal. "Fortunately, I had a lot of help."

Two former governors and other respected officials helped judges make their case to state lawmakers last year. They said poor funding was severely hampering the courts' ability to provide speedy access to justice and dispute resolution.

As chief justice of the Supreme Court since May 2012, Balmer oversees the caseload of the state's highest court and is responsible for the two-year, $400 million budget for the system of appellate and trial courts. Oregon's 36 counties are divided into 27 judicial districts. Between 500,000 and 600,000 cases are filed in trial courts each year.

An end to unpaid days off that applied to all court workers except judges has helped the courts improve their operating hours, though not all courts are open at all times during business hours, Ballmer said.

He also praised the Legislature's decision to continue funding a new electronic records system, funding for three more appellate judges to relieve one of the nation's busiest intermediate-level courts, and continued funding for about a dozen specialty courts such as drug courts and veterans' treatment courts.
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