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State needs to fund its justice system

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As the Legislature and Gov. Dayton resume work in 2013 they will again be facing a budget deficit, and they will have to grapple with the state budget. It is important to point out that our state’s justice system is already underfunded, overwhelmed and in jeopardy. Our public defense system is in crisis; civil legal services can only meet the needs of about one-third of eligible clients; and there are cuts in personnel and hours in the court system that create backlogs and delays in courts across our state.

Backlogs and delays hurt everyone. From the Main Street business owner who has to wait a year or two to resolve a contract dispute that might determine whether that business survives, to the person accused of a crime who has to sit in jail for months before getting a chance to argue his or her innocence, to the couple seeking a divorce who must wait up to a year or more to get the access to their children resolved, the inability to get a case heard promptly causes them harm. Or consider the arrest warrants that are not issued for days and maybe weeks because court staff are backed up.

These issues have impacted Beltrami County. We now share a court administrator with Cass County. Service hours at court administration have been reduced, thereby limiting the time that citizens can accomplish their business with the courts.

The justice system is a core government function that belongs to all 5 million Minnesotans. We all have a stake in making sure that it is adequately funded, including the courts, civil legal services and public defenders. The state’s budget problems should not be solved by jeopardizing justice in Minnesota.

Robert Woodke

Bemidji

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