Budget Crunching Courts

TAMPA -

Lawmakers are warming up for their 2008 legislative session. Friday, the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation heard from local Constitutional officers about overcrowded courts and high personnel turnover rates.

Chief Judge Manuel Menendez says his 13th Circuit withstood the state's initial budget cuts this year, losing only one position.

But, he told lawmakers any further reductions would jeopardize programs such as mediation set up to alleviate the overcrowded civil court system that's experienced almost a doubling of foreclosure filings this year.

State Attorney Mark Ober told legislators that 95 percent of his budget pays for people. And, he can't offer competitive salaries so he's got an average 24 percent turnover rate.

'That's unacceptable and that's all because these young lawyers we hire can't afford to stay here,' says Ober, adding that new lawyers are usually burdened with student loan debt.

Ober's office could lose up to $1.2 million about 6 percent of this year's budget.

However, lawmakers were not encouraging. Instead, one senator advised to expect even less money for next year.

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