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Thursday, September 29, 2022


The Territorial Court can't function with the $5 million budget cut recommended by the administration without severely cutting back on services, Presiding Judge Verne A. Hodge told the Senate Finance Committee on Friday.
The court requested $22 million for fiscal year 2000, the same amount budgeted for the current fiscal year.
Hodge, who last year announced his intention to retire from the bench this fall, acknowledged that, given the government's financial crisis, cuts must be made.
"I see nothing to be gained by justifying the needs of the Territorial Court," he said. "What we need, $5 million [more], we cannot get, and we know it." But, he added, "As long as our appropriation is only $17 million. . . the public cannot and should not expect full service or timely service from the court."
Hodge, who has a track record of having the court system live within its means while other agencies pleaded for increases, said the court has a 12-point cost-reduction plan in place.
He said it includes cutting the number of law clerk positions by half, reducing overtime, calling on retirees for volunteer service, encouraging early retirement and privatizing security and maintenance services. He said he has already been "accused of terminating too many senior employees of the court."
He noted that the court system accounts for just 3 percent of the government budget, and said its cost-cutting measures, no matter how extreme, would have a "negligible" impact on the overall fiscal crisis.
In other court system testimony before the Finance Committee, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Finch said the Government House recommendation of $379,259 for the Judicial Council is the same as the current amount. He said no increases in staff or spending in any category will be considered, a legislative release stated.
Testifying for the Public Defender's Office, attorney Harold Willocks asked for a $3 million increase in the recommended budget. According to the same release, he cited concern about the ability of the office to pay vendors for specialized services during court proceedings.

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