MN Lawyers Join Forces to Fight Budget Cuts

An initiative called 1,000 Supporters includes legal professionals from across the state who seek funding for the financially strained judicial system.

A team of local attorneys has banded together to fight funding cuts to the court system, legal aid, and public defenders-and the group is currently more than 1,000 lawyers strong, according to the Minnesota State Bar Association.

The initiative, dubbed 1,000 Supporters, is an effort by the state Bar Association through which it encourages its members to contact legislators in an attempt to secure funding for the judicial system.

The group comprises legal professionals from across Minnesota-including public defenders, judges, private practice attorneys, prosecutors, in-house counsel, and legal aid attorneys.

The 1,000 Supporters' Web site includes a long list of fiscal challenges faced by the judicial system as a result of what it describes as “several biennia of underfunding.”

The group says that the legal sector has already been hit hard by hiring freezes, layoffs, and work-hour reductions, among many other efforts to scale back. It also states that Minnesota's judicial branch is short-staffed by nearly 10 percent, and the Board of Public Defense faces nearly double the caseloads outlined in the American Bar Association Standards.

Minnesota State Bar Association President Terry Votel and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea recently sent a letter to association members outlining concerns that if the justice system experiences further cuts, it will start to collapse.

“Think about the arrest warrant that doesn't get signed quickly enough, the order for protection that isn't issued, trials that get set into the far distant future, victims forced to wait months and years for resolution, and small claims cases taking so long that the process does no good,” Votel and Gildea wrote.”Minnesota's justice system is already strained to the breaking point. If the system is cut further, it will begin to break down.”

Votel said in a Monday phone interview that 1,000 Supporters was launched a couple of years ago, but it has recently picked up steam. The group, in conjunction with the Coalition to Preserve the Justice System, “has raised the recognition considerably of the issue of funding and the protection of citizens' rights,” Votel said. This year, the groups intend to appear at outreach events in each of the state's judicial districts in an effort to inform people of the importance of securing adequate funding.

For 2011, “we're kind of waiting to see what the budget proposals are” under newly elected officials, “and that will drive our decisions as to specific [budget] issues,” Votel added.

The Minnesota State Bar Association encourages attorneys to sign up for updates from 1,000 Supporters here and to contact legislators to increase recognition of funding concerns.