CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming's court system is doing its part to cut costs, including a proposal to close several courts and an expanded use of video conferencing, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite said.
In the annual "State of the Judiciary" address before a joint session of the Wyoming Legislature on Wednesday, Kite reported on budget cuts that all state agencies have been directed to propose because of predictions of flat state revenue.
"However, courts don't have optional programs that can be eliminated," Kite said. "In the operation of our libraries, our administrative staff and our circuit courts we're making those budget cuts where we can and still function."
The Board of Judicial Policy and Administration, which consists of judges from every level of the state court system, has proposed closing satellite circuit courts in Dubois, Lovell and Powell, Kite said. Their functions would be moved to the circuit courts in their respective county seats, she said.
The proposal was made after studying case filings and court workloads across the state, she said.
"We don't make this proposal lightly and we recognize that there is some local opposition to our decision," Kite said. "Some local governments have even offered to pay the cost of keeping those courts open."
However, local financial support would run counter to the unified state funded court system that Wyoming implemented about 20 years ago, she said.
The judicial policy board is working with lawmakers to address the local concerns while still achieving the savings, Kite said.
"We have also identified statutes that require us to spend money unnecessarily," she said.
Some full-time circuit court magistrates can be phased out, distribution of copies of certain court books can be eliminated and district judges should be allowed to determine what proceedings must be transcribed, she said.
As part of ongoing efforts to improve technology in the court system, Kite said courts are saving money by increasing use of video conferencing, which saves travel costs. It is hoped that video conferencing can be used to help minimize the cost of providing interpreters in court, she said.
"For example, last month, one district court judge had to use his entire interpreter budget on one three-day trial," she said. "So it's obvious that controlling this budget item will be of increasing importance."
Kite also reported that a new uniform court data system and online citation payment and entry are improving the delivery of judicial services in Wyoming.
Kite urged lawmakers to support efforts to improve security at courthouses after a bullet pierced the walls of a circuit courtroom in Riverton last August. No one was hurt.
She also thanked lawmakers for raising judicial salaries last year, noting that vacancies in several judgeships attracted highly qualified candidates.