Oregon courts closed today; lawmakers avert future furloughs

Chris Rizo Mar. 13, 2009, 12:22pm

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon's state courts are closed today as part of an effort to save taxpayer money but future furloughs have been averted, officials said.

Courts were intended to be closed on Fridays to help the state make ends meet amid a steep decline in revenues but leading lawmakers and Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz were able to reach a deal that averts future furlough Fridays.

The chief justice announced the closures two weeks ago in response to $11 million in cuts to the judicial branch's budget. The Beaver State is facing $855 million shortfall this year.

Under an agreement reached Thursday, $1.7 million will be shifted from a project to put more court documents online and allow case filings via the Internet.

Rep. Peter Buckley, a member of the Democratic leadership team, said he was opposed to court closures.

"Just as school districts worked with the Legislature to ensure a full year for students, the Judicial Department has stepped up and made the sacrifices and tough choices necessary for them to stay open the remainder of this budget year," said Buckley, D-Ashland.

"Oregonians, your day in court will continue to include Fridays," he added.

Other states have similarly closed state courts to help cut costs.

In Iowa, for example, Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus has said Iowa courts could be forced to make layoffs and furlough workers amid the state's worsening budget crunch.

Cost-cutting plans under lawmakers' consideration could mean the state judicial branch is forced to close for up to 10 days this year and layoffs could be necessary next year, she said.

Ternus and Iowa Judicial Branch Administrator David Boyd said state courts could be closed up to 10 days before June 30. As for next year, he said the courts could be closed for up to 20 days.

"Let there be no mistake, the proposed budget reductions, whether we meet them by having part-time courts or through massive layoffs, will cripple the court system. And every Iowan should be concerned about that," Ternus said late last month in a statement.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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