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How bad is Minnesota’s underfunded court system?

In a media environment saturated with talking heads, where do your experiences and knowledge fit in?

Here at MinnPost we’ve launched an effort to expand our network of sources to include you and your network of trusted colleagues and friends. We want you for reporting efforts, as idea generators, sources and content contributors.

We’ll be asking often for your help and we’re starting with an issue that affects every Minnesotan: our underfunded court system.

Are you a judge, lawyer, court employee or legal services provider? We know your work has been affected by the budget cuts of the last two legislative cycles, but only you can tell us exactly how.

We’ve created a simple and secure form below where you can share your experiences working within Minnesota’s underfunded court system.

What you share will not be published, it will be confidential and will help to inform and guide our reporting.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the system as a plaintiff, defendant, or juror — we want to hear from you too.

If you’re reading this and you don’t work in the courts, I bet you know somebody who does — please send them a link! Thanks for your help; it’s essential to getting this story right.

If you haven’t been following the courts story closely, the best place to pick it up is a dramatic moment in January 2009 when Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson stood before reporters to challenge the proposed budget cuts of Gov. Tim Pawlenty — also Magnuson’s one-time law partner. State courts were at a breaking point, he warned, and he issued a challenge: “What part of justice do you want us to stop doing?”

Flanking Magnuson were 50 members of the judicial and law enforcement community, not a bunch known for public challenges state leaders. They were assembled to announce the launch of something they called the Coalition to Preserve the Justice System.

That was nearly two years ago. Today hundreds of positions in the courts are unfilled, it takes months to fill a retired judges seat, courthouse service windows are closed, and a dwindling force of public defenders are finding themselves crushed under the weight of impossible caseloads.

When Magnuson stepped down this year, his successor Lori Skjerven Gildea made it plain that she too would fight any further cuts to the judiciary. Magnuson’s coalition, she told MinnPost, “I intend to continue that effort and build on it.”

After years of covering the story, we’re not ready to put it down either. Whatever you can do to help us understand and pursue the story, we’ll be grateful.

Stay tuned and don’t be shy with tips, suggestions, and critiques.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/22/2010 - 09:06 am.

    What purpose will this survey of misery serve? Do we really need to hear more gloom and doom from our public servants?

    How about anecdotal stories from court employees that have met the challenges of our economic struggles by contributing positive changes in the way they deliver their services?

    How are managers making better use of limited resources? Who is combining resources and identifying obsolete procedures?

    How are clerks reducing the time it takes them to process paperwork?

    How are they reducing mistakes?

    And why limit this exercise to the courts? Who is making a difference at the DMV, City hall, Metro Transit?

    In the private sector, tough economic times weed out the weak, the inefficient, the poorly managed and disorganized businesses and leave the survivors stronger.

    Why should the public sector not benefit from the same paradigm?

  2. Submitted by Robert Roll on 09/22/2010 - 01:21 pm.

    When Thomas Swift says ‘tough economic times weed out the weak, the inefficient, the poorly managed and disorganized businesses and leave the survivors stronger’ he ignores a couple of basic differences between businesses and institutions like the courts:

    When businesses go through tough economic times, it usually means their business is down and they don’t need to produce or sell as much as in good times. The opposite is true of institutions like the court – their business has increased during these tough times. They are doing quite a bit more with significantly reduced resources.

    Another difference between businesses and courts is that the state constitution requires that all people have access to justice without delay. The courts must serve all customers. The cuts in resources have meant quite a high level of stress on many court employees who are dedicated to meeting that constituional mandate.

    My experience with the courts is that they have made many improvements to their processes and improved the efficiency with which they handle high volume case types.

    I agree that MinnPost’s coverage should include stories about how the courts have successfully made improvements.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Severns Guntzel on 10/21/2010 - 09:55 am.

    Tom and Robert, you’re both right: understanding new efficiencies in the face of budget struggles is essential. I’ve been gathering info on this. There’s a ton of creative work happening.

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