The state Judicial Branch cannot close down courthouses, but it can reduce the number of judicial service centers and their hours of operation. That was part of the message retiring Sixth District Court Judge Kenneth Sandvik brought to the county board on Tuesday.
Sandvik told commissioners through a series of budget shortfalls and cuts resulting from them, the Judicial Branch is underfunded and has been edging closer to cutting back smaller court service centers. Included would be the courts he has served for over two and a half decades – Lake and Cook Counties.
Sandvik: I think it’s very real. I’ve been doing this for 26 years. It is as bad as I have seen it. Our administration committees are incredibly depressing meetings.
Sandvik said generally speaking judges are not collaborative people, do not make decisions by consensus and currently tend to mirror the positions of the governor regarding budget reductions. Furthermore, he told commissioners they are not apt to be asked for their input. He added the issue is a matter for the Legislature – it funds the Judiciary.
Commissioner Bruce Martinson suggested that any cuts to the local court system would actually cost counties more than the reductions would save. Commissioner Jim Johnson agreed.
Johnson: We talked about the costs in terms of money, but if you start talking about costs in terms of keeping order in society, then I think you’re talking about real value. Looking at the state, they’re looking at education, social services, courts, incarceration, law enforcement, probation as areas that they can cut, because it’s dollars. But, if you start looking at what is this to the value of keeping order in society, then you look at it from a whole different perspective.
Commissioner Bob Fenwick agreed it’s a legislative matter.
Fenwick: The sad thing, I say this without a judge, with all due respect I have for the judiciary, it is an equal branch. It’s not the one that calls all the shots, and right now, because of the way they’re being funded, they’re calling the shots on this and it’s not right. This is a legislative issue. The stakeholders are the citizens, it’s not the lawyers; it’s not the judges. Those people are staff; the stakeholders are the citizens, and they’re totally left out on this issue. And this is not the only issue. It is symptomatic of what has happened in government over the years. Social services is a typical example. You cannot point to one instance where centralizing services has worked out well in the long run for the citizens financially, it just does not do it. If local units of government, counties, don’t realize that they are the only salvation for this, we’re in big trouble. They’re the only ones that can stand up here and say, “This is not right;” that we’ve finally come to a point where, now you are going to be taking away the very fundamental right that I have a right to in a democracy and that’s swift, good justice. At some point people have to stop and say, “enough is enough.”
Fenwick said the county is in a position of having to pay for things it does not want by mandate and doesn’t have the right to pay for the things it would like to have. Furthermore, he cautioned that reducing smaller local court services will pit the rural areas against the metro for money.