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Judiciary faces a $600,000 dilemma

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The Judiciary of Guam's financial condition may have improved slightly with the help of the Calvo Administration, but it still isn't out of the woods when it comes to getting through the remainder of this fiscal year. In two weeks, the Judicial Council will have to make a $600,000 decision that will have an impact on employees one way or another.

"As we sit here today, the options that need to be decided," said Supreme Court of Guam Chief Justice F. Philip Carbullido, adding, "Number one, do we defer the law enforcement adjustment or if we pay that out, do we then adopt a 32-hour workweek taking into account the notices that have to be provided?" He alluded to the financial realities of the island's third branch of government during his State of the Judiciary Address last month warning that even if the courts receive their full allotments for the rest of the fiscal year, they'll still end up with a shortfall."

"The information I have is that if we do defer the law enforcement adjustment because that's about $600,000. If we're able to defer that, then we don't have to adopt the 32-hour workweek," his honor explained. "We can't pay the law enforcement adjustment and continue with operations as usual - there's just not the cash available for that."

Carbullido says if the courts go into a 32-hour workweek, the wheels of justice could come to a screeching halt at a time when the caseload is growing and the demands on the court are increasing. "It will have a severe impact on us, just access to justice and timely decisions. That would be the last alternative, that's something that we don't want to engage in. As I said, cutting back in terms of our services to the public cannot be the answer," he speculated.

While a 32-hour workweek is an option of last resort, the chief justice stresses that he is just one of five of the Judicial Council members who will ultimately make that decision.

But if lawmakers were able to identify $500,000 to $600,000, Carbullido says the Judiciary would be able to get through this fiscal year without the reduction in work hours and giving their public safety personnel their raises as mandated by law. Because that doesn't seem like a realistic possibility, going into the Fiscal Year 2012 budget process, the chief justice says the court will be asking for additional funding to pay for the mandate the Guam Legislature imposed.

He explained, saying, "They raised the law enforcement adjustment 10% for 2011 and another 10% for Fiscal Year 2012 - that in itself will cost $1.2 million, so even if we were to have a status quo budget, automatically already our budget has increased by $1.2 million because of these mandates. They keep passing these mandates without supporting it without appropriate apprpoations."

The judicial council is scheduled to meet on Friday, May 27.

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