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Poll: Judicial system's financial straits not registering with public

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Dec 13, 2013

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) -- A new poll by the nation's defense bar found that the public is split on the judicial system's current financial health.

The survey, conducted by DRI: The Voice of the Defense Bar's Center for Law and Public Policy and executed by Langer Research Associates in New York, found that 40 percent of respondents feel the civil courts in their state have all the funding they need to do their job adequately.

The poll also found that an identical 40 percent believe their courts are short of needed funding.

The rest are unsure.

According to DRI, the responses were based on "what they had heard or experienced."

The defense bar's study also found that the responses seem to split along ideological lines.

Twenty-nine percent of liberal Democrats polled said they believe civil courts are adequately funded; 54 percent of strong conservatives agreed.

"It's amazing that with all the high-profile warnings, literally thousands of newspaper articles and all the effects of the funding shortage being played out in the nation's courts system, that 60 percent of respondents either think there's no funding problem or aren't sure there's a funding problem," DRI President Mike Weston said in a statement Thursday.

"Given all the attention, the unawareness seems almost willful."

A number of judicial districts around the country have warned that in light of serious budget constraints on the local, state and federal levels, and their constitutional requirement to provide speedy trials in criminal cases, they might have to curtail or suspend civil jury trials.

Seventy-five percent of the poll's respondents said they consider that option "unacceptable."

"The ideological split comes as a surprise," John R. Kouris, DRI executive director, said in a statement. "You would think that funding of the courts would be a non-partisan, or at least a bi-partisan, issue given that both political parties have raised the issue.

"It is encouraging though that regardless of political or ideological affiliation, a strong majority finds the suspension of civil trials unacceptable."

The poll's findings come from an independent, nonpartisan telephone survey conducted via landline and cell phone interviews with a random national sample of 1,005 adults.

The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the full sample.

DRI's poll focused on four areas: confidence in the civil justice system, class action lawsuits, juror bias and judicial funding.

Additional results of the survey will be released in the coming weeks, the defense bar noted.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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