By Ben Present
Of the Legal Staff
Ensuring justice in state courtrooms can only be accomplished through openness and proper funding, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille said last week in a released statement.
Latching onto an American Bar Association push to address underfunded judiciaries nationwide, Castille's remarks came in his annual “State of the Commonwealth's Courts,” in which he said Pennsylvania courts only continue to "tread water" even as the overall fiscal picture for state courts has continued on a grim path.
Castille noted that state courts receive about .5 percent of the state's overall budget. That amounts to about $328 million, 85 percent of which goes to court personnel.
Although he cited funding as the judiciary's biggest hurdle, Castille, in writing for the state's Unified Judicial System, said he believes the Pennsylvania General Assembly understands the court system's crunch for cash and recognizes the judiciary's efforts to navigate the difficult financial terrain.
One such effort involves putting technology to work, an area in which Castille said Pennsylvania courts lead the nation. He also pointed to an "unprecedented effort" to make sure the state has enough jurists to meet its caseload demands, but no more than that.
"We want you to know what we are doing, and we need you to know of the issues that confront us," Castille said. "Some may observe that financial resources have become a recurrent theme in this report in recent years, but only of necessity, for those issues remain critical."
Castille also boasted the state's problem-solving courts, what he called "landmark efforts" to ensure children safe, permanent homes, and its mortgage mediation programs as successes of the judiciary.