Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, Craig Stowers, spoke to the Alaska House and Senate in the annual State of the Judiciary address Wednesday, acknowledging the state’s unprecedented budget shortfall and offering savings within the court system.


“I think it’s important that the court system be a good soldier and a good team player as we all work to solve the challenges of the budget crisis,” Stowers told lawmakers.


In his speech, Stowers highlighted cost-saving strategies that the court has already implemented in order to meet the $3.4 million dollar cut to the court system last year.


“Three hundred court employees have taken a total of 9,000 hours of voluntary leave without pay,” Stowers told legislators.


The court system also plans to implement a new policy to close courts state-wide on Friday afternoons. Stowers says that measure alone would translate to about $39,000 in savings for each Friday.


As lawmakers look for ways to fill the state’s nearly $4 billion budget shortfall, Stowers says the judiciary branch is proposing $3.8 million in cuts to the court system. Part of those cuts will be through a reduction in number of employees, but Stowers says cuts will be done through attrition, voluntary unpaid leave and “limited” court closures first.


Stowers said the system is also looking at new cost-saving measures that would overlap with other department budgets, like holding video conference hearings rather than transporting prisoners from certain correctional facilities to courthouses.


“This will create savings to the Department of Public Safety and the Alaska State Troopers and Judicial Services from not having to bear the cost of transporting prisoners to what are very often short hearings of relatively small consequence,” said Stowers. “This also saves the transportation expense and the loss of valuable time required when state troopers and court service officers have to accompany these prisoners.”


Stowers says video conferencing capabilities have already been established between the Goose Creek Correctional facility and the Palmer Courthouse, as well as between the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center and the Nome and Kotzebue courthouses. Stowers also mentioned the use of video conference by foreign language interpreters in court cases as a way the state could trim costs.


“The public understands that government, including the court system cannot continue to operate as it has,” said Stowers.


Minority leader Sen. Berta Gardner said she appreciated that Stowers’ speech, but wanted to hear more — beyond the budget — on how the court system is working.


“I guess he thought the budget is all we wanted to hear about,” she said.


Senate President Kevin Meyer said it was the first time he’s heard a Chief of Justice put forth such detailed cost-saving measures.


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