Report of the District of Columbia Bar Court Funding Committee
- Executive Summary
This Committee was constituted by the D.C. Bar Board of Governors
in September 2000, to study the question of whether the District of
Columbia Courts, composed of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("the Courts"),
have suffered from inadequate funding, and to write a report setting
forth its findings and conclusions. The Board of Governors also asked
the Committee to make a recommendation on the question whether the
Board of Governors should seek authority from the membership of the
D.C. Bar to speak in support of funding legislation for the Courts.
The Committee, after studying the issue,
is unanimously of the view that the Bar should speak in support of
funding for the Courts. We have an unusually high quality local court
system in the District. Inadequate funding has been an acute problem
for the Courts for several years in a row. These funding problems
present a clear threat to the administration of justice. The Bar has
both the expertise and the responsibility to speak on this issue.
The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Board of Governors seek
authority from the membership of the D.C. Bar to lobby in support
of adequate funding for the Courts.
- The Courts
There is a fine local Court system here in the District. Its judges
are well and carefully selected and reviewed. The judges are highly
regarded by the bar and handle one of the busiest court systems
in the country. For example, in 1999 there were 144, 244 new case
filings, and 167,700 case dispositions in Superior Court. This
is one of the highest case disposition by population ratios in
In 1996, a conference report issued
by the United States Congress emphasized "the high quality and
caliber of all court personnel, including management staff" and
The District's judicial branch of government is one
of the better managed entities in the District government. All
personnel, including those in supervisory roles, appear to be
well trained and dedicated to excellence
During the last few years, however, serious funding problems have
threatened the Courts' ability to administer justice.
Conf. Rept. to H.R. 2546, January 31, 1996.
- Funding Issues
For several years, the Courts had insufficient funds to compensate
adequately its non-judicial employees. By the start of the year
2000, salaries for court employees had dropped to a point where
they were almost 20% less than the salaries of comparable federal
employees. Employee morale was at an all time low. Many employees
had resigned. The Courts lacked funds to replace them and were
under staffed by about 130 positions. FY 2001 appropriations have
enabled the Courts to achieve pay parity for its employees, and
will enable the Courts to fill approximately 30 of the unfilled
positions. However, a significant increase in funding will be
required to fill the remaining vacant positions.
The Courts have had insufficient
funds to compensate adequately counsel assigned to represent indigent
defendants charged with crimes. In each year for the last four
years, the amount available to pay for counsel assigned to represent
indigent defendants under the Criminal Justice Act ("CJA") was
insufficient. The Court has an obligation under the United States
Constitution to appoint such counsel and to see to it that such
counsel are paid. But in some years, payment to the lawyers who
did this work had to be deferred because of inadequate funding.
In other years, the Court had to take funds from its already stressed
operating budget to make up the shortfall.
The Courts are in need of additional
space which can only be obtained through additional funding. Since
the Moultrie Building, which houses the Courts, was built in 1978,
the number of judges and hearing commissioners in the Superior
Court has increased by more than one third. The old courthouse
at 451 Indiana Avenue, which is an historic landmark, is needed
to relieve some of the space pressures on the Moultrie Building.
However, it requires immediate and extensive restoration work
before it can be utilized for any purpose.
The Courts are in serious need of
new and upgraded technology systems. They have been appropriated
only a fraction of the funds they requested and which they need
for this purpose. The Courts simply cannot be expected to run
efficiently in this day and age without the necessary information
technology equipment and software. In September 2000, the National
Center for State Courts issued a report on the Courts' information
technology system and found that: 1) the Court needs a new integrated
computer system (i.e., not modification of the existing one);
2) current woes are due to lack of funding; and 3) the Court has
done "valiantly in the face of lack of funding." The report also
concludes the Court is underfunded when compared with the national
and the federal level of funding.1
The funding problems appear to be associated,
at least in part, with passage of the National Capital Revitalization
and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (the "Revitalization
Act") under which the federal government assumed direct funding
responsibility for the Courts' budget. This Committee has not
endeavored to determine definitively all of the reasons that the
Courts experienced these funding problems. It is enough to observe
that the problems cannot continue unremedied without serious damage
to the short and long term fiscal health of our court system and
to the administration of justice.
The Committee notes that the appropriation
process for FY2001 saw significant improvement. Congress provided
funds to permit the Courts to bring the salaries of court employees
to parity with federal employees. Funds were also provided to
make repairs to the roof on 451 Indiana Avenue. However, over
100 staff positions remain unfilled, and at present, the Courts
lack funds to fill all but approximately 30 of these positions.
Moreover, the House and the Senate differed by $4 million on the
amount which should be appropriated to pay for CJA lawyers during
FY 2001, and Congress appropriated the lower amount. Further,
no additional funds were appropriated for technology or information
technology personnel. In addition, space needs remain a significant
issue for the Courts.
- Role of the Bar
The professional attorneys who make up the bar know, perhaps better
than any other segment of our society, how important our system
of justice is, how central to that system our courts are, and
how crucial adequate funding is to the proper functioning of our
courts. The Committee has concluded that critical funding needs
pose a threat to the administration of justice. It is the responsibility
of the bar to speak up on this issue.
Based on this Committee's study
of this issue, it is clear that the Courts have significant funding
needs, and that there is a risk that those requirements will not
be met. It is vital that the Courts' leadership has available
the tools they needin terms of funding and technologyto
make the Courts successful.
The Board of Governors of the D.C.
Bar has twice beforein 1992 and 1993received authority
from its membership to lobby in support of court funding. The
Courts experienced significant funding and morale problems for
several years in the late 1990s, which continue to adversely impact
on the administration of justice. This Committee therefore recommends
that the Board of Governors seek a multi-year authority to speak
on outstanding court funding issues that need to be addressed,
and may need to be addressed in the future.
- The report indicates that D.C. receives $4950 less per employee
than the average for state courts nationwide, and approximately $12,000
less per employee than the average for federal courts.