Democrats Blast House Republicans Over Court Closures

The Shawnee County Courthouse was operating at a bare minimum Friday.

Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, blast Republicans over court closures.

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Shawnee County Courthouse was operating at a bare minimum Friday.

Courtrooms and offices were mostly empty with only judges and the occasional delivery man walking the usually busy halls.

"It's Friday, the 13th, the first of five mandatory judicial furlough days," Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, told reporters outside the Courthouse.

Flanked by Representative Ann Mah, D-Topeka, and Senator Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, he blasted House Republicans for failing to approve $1.4 million in supplemental appropriations the judicial branch requested earlier in the year.

"They left an entire branch of government unable to do its job, because they refuse to do theirs," Hensley said.

House Speaker Mike O'Neal has previously said the furloughs were "unnecessary," suggesting lawmakers will come to an agreement when they return to the negotiating table on April 25.

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss last week issued an order for five furlough days spread out over the remaining fiscal year ending June 30, to ensure the judicial branch will meet its payroll obligations.

Nuss requested extra funding from legislators to make up for an unexpected decrease in court case filing fees.

The Senate approved a budget bill that contained the supplemental appropriation for the courts, but House lawmakers failed to approve the request due to an impasse over other unrelated issues included in the same bill.

"These furloughs did not have to happen. The state has a $500 million surplus. We're not in the same financial crisis we faced in the past two years," Hensley said.

The Chief Justice's order affects 1,500 judicial employees who will see a 10 percent reduction for each pay period with a furlough day.

With court services being shut down, Shawnee County residents weren't able to get a marriage license or pay off a parking ticket. Some criminal cases are also being pushed back.

"I have cases that will be affected by the furlough where a man is accused of killing his mother. We have a preliminary hearing scheduled that will have to be rescheduled," District Judge Richard Anderson said. "Another case in which a man is accused of killing his baby... That will be rescheduled."

Anderson is one of Shawnee County's 15 district judges working today on critical services, but without a staff, he said, even emergency cases are moving slowly.

"Another person was concerned about a protection from abuse order and I had to get her started on filling out the paperwork."

"Frustration is what I feel," Anderson said, while expressing hope that lawmakers will come to an agreement soon.

Lawmakers will have just two days when they return on April 25 to come to an agreement on the court's funding request and avoid sending judicial worker home on the next scheduled furlough date, April 27.

631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email:
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