Chief Justice Jean Toal this morning asked a state Senate panel not to cut her state appropriation from last year’s $37.4 million in state funds.
In her presentation to members of a Senate finance subcommittee, Toal asked that senators exempt state courts from any possible across-the-board spending cuts to state agencies.
“Chief, if everybody asked for that, we wouldn’t have to do across the board cuts, would we?” said Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, in a polite tone. Thomas is co-chair of the six-senator subcommittee before which Toal appeared.
“I realize that,” replied Toal, equally politely.
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“But you’re a lawyer —, “ continued Thomas.
“And you don’t get what you don’t ask for,” Toal said.
Toal then suggested it might be better to initiate cuts “entity by entity rather than have a one size fits all.”
The subcommittee took no action. The next step will be for Toal’s request, as well as the proposed slashed budgets for numerous state agencies, to go before the full Senate Finance Committee.
Already, House of Representatives lawmakers working on the budget have requested all state agencies to cut their proposed budgets for next year by 20 percent. No one knows yet how much the final cuts will be.
Toal’s Judicidary Department, with a $64 million overall budget, is one of three main branches of state government. It includes the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, family courts, civil and criminal state courts, masters-in-equities, probate courts, city courts and magistrates courts — more than 700 judges in all.
Toal’s 45-minute presentation offered glimpses into numerous aspects of the state court system.
She touched on:
+ Efforts to compile a computerized, publicly accessible statewide database of domestic violence offenders.
+ The lack-of-progress getting video court hearings for prisoners to save time, as well as travel and guard costs.
+ An update on her major initiative — a $50-plus million nearly completed effort to have legal filings done via the Internet (as in the federal court system) and to put all publicly available state court records online.
Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, praised Toal’s work on the Internet-based system, which will provide comprehensive, instantly available data on all court filings, civil and criminal, from magistrate’s court to the Supreme Court.
“What you are doing with the case management system is not only wonderful, but at some point in time it will transform itself into a tool where researchers can figure out where our problems are, and where we need to focus, whether it’s law enforcement or social services.”
Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, questioned Toal about why some counties were not putting all court documents online, since those same documents were available in a courthouse if a member of the public went to the courthouse.
Toal answered that she preferred that all court documents be made available online, but she could not order county clerks of courts — the custodians of court records in each county — about what to put online and what not to put on line.
Besides Thomas and Leventis, senators at the hearing were Sens. John Land, D-Clarendon; Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg; Greg Rybert, R-Aiken; and Michael Fair, R-Greenville.