Kansas court shutdowns are delayed

Plans for closing Kansas courts will be delayed to give the Legislature time to come up with enough money to avoid further shutdowns.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Monday announced it would postpone two of the furloughs several days after lawmakers told court representatives that they were committed to funding the courts.

A furlough planned for this Friday will be postponed until May 24. A court closing set for May 11 has been pushed back to June 7. The other closings — set for May 25 and June 8 — remained unchanged.

Courts closed last Friday, affecting 1,500 employees statewide, including about 300 workers in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

“When the furloughs were first announced, the Supreme Court simply had no choice but to order a reduction in court operations because we don’t have enough money for the courts to stay open,” said Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.

Nuss announced five furlough days on April 4 after the Legislature failed to approve a $1.4 million supplemental appropriation before adjourning for its annual break in late March. The courts needed the money because they fell short of their expected revenues due to a decline in court filing fees.

“We had no assurance at that time that our budget would not fall victim to the same impasses that created the Legislature’s inaction in March,” Nuss explained.

But last week, lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee signaled that they would provide the money the courts needed. Nuss said he believed the Legislature would follow through on funding.

“The Supreme Court is not interested in pointing fingers. We are interested in trying to help fix this mess. Today’s decision is our effort to help fix it,” Nuss said.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature had always intended to give the courts the money.

“It is bewildering to know what changed from three weeks ago to today,” said Rhoades, a Newton Republican.

“The House has taken a hit on this already in public opinion,” he added. “It’s unfortunate that when it wasn’t necessary that we would be slammed and they would come back around and say, ‘OK, we trust you now.’ ”

Nuss had clashed with House Speaker Mike O’Neal over how the furloughs might have been avoided.

O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, had suggested that the courts could have dipped into a couple of so-called fee funds to get by until the Legislature returned Wednesday. Nuss, however, refused to take money from those funds.

Nuss said one of those funds receives money from attorney registration fees, which are used for disciplining attorneys, a program for helping lawyers with substance abuse and depression, and a program for reimbursing clients who are victims of lawyer misconduct.

Another fund gets money from case filing fees, but state law requires that go toward the training of court personnel, Nuss pointed out.