The CNMI Judiciary said the next fiscal year’s budget will determine whether its doors remain open.

“Should we keep the doors of the courts open on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota or should we shut it down? Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, the answer to that question now is in your hands,” said CNMI Chief Justice, Alexandro Castro. 

That question was posed by the NMI Supreme Court Chief Justice to House lawmakers amid budget hearings on Saipan. The NMI Judiciary requested  about $15M while the Governor proposed $5.3M amid the fiscal crisis.

The budget demands come as demands at the court also mount.

“2023 saw the highest number of civil and family court families from the past five years. These numbers do not account for the numerous pending cases that have been carried over from previous years as well as anticipated jury trial costs and court-appointed attorney costs. These numbers also highlight the Superior Court's divisions continuing to remain extremely understaffed,” said Roberto Naraja, Presiding Judge of the NMI Superior Court. 

The presiding judge noted that one probation officer in the CNMI supervises between 60 to 80 probationers a year. The legislature has just over $100M to appropriate for the entire Commonwealth.

“The two branches do not control the funds, so whatever is handed to us is what we have and then whatever is short is our fault, so that is the stress we get,” said CNMI House Ways and Means Committee Chair Ralph Yumul.