Guam – Judiciary of Guam employees may soon see a 36-hour work-week as it copes with budget cuts made by the Guam Legislature in the last budget enacted into law. Judicial council members aired their concerns in a meeting today because the cuts could affect the performance of Judiciary employees.
The Guam legislature cut the Judiciary’s budget by $1.2 million and eliminated $460-thousand in retirement benefit increments in the last budget session. It was a necessary move by senators to pay $14 million in prior year tax refund obligations. And while the cuts are laudable, the Judiciary and other government agencies whose budgets were also cut will have to figure out how to continue to operate.
The Judicial Council met today to discuss where the cuts will be made and how they will cope. Chief Justice Philip Carbullido presided over the meeting.
“We have a $1.7 million dollar shortfall as a result of the appropriation that we received from the legislature. We’re proposing to cut about $607,000 within our budget that we’ve been able to identify. We’re proposing to increase the judicial building the superior court traffic fines and fees by $300,000 to help subsidize the operation that we’re going to receive from the judicial building fund, and then that leaves us still with a shortfall of $807,500, and in lieu of laying employees off the management is proposing that we adopt a 36-hour work-week,” said Carbullido.
The 36-hour work-week, if approved, will go into effect in May 2013 and will last until the end of fiscal year 2013. The council put off a vote on the proposal to give other council members time to review it.
Some council members who were present raised concerns about the proposal. Judge Alberto Lamorena III wanted to know how the cuts will affect the number of jury trials the courts can conduct in the fiscal year.
“My concern is that I’m seeing a large increase in jury trials and the grand jury is meeting four times a week and so we have to add all those numbers,” said Lamorena. “A jury trial is a constitutional right granted to all defendants and if we are unable to provide that constitutional right to the defendants we’re in serious trouble.”
Other issues raised include reducing funding for the Marshal’s Division by reducing the number of weapons and ammunitions training they receive a year. Associate Justice Katherine Maraman wanted to ensure that less training does not translate to less efficiency.
However, Marshal of the Court Ed Toves says they’ve only eliminated two familiarization trainings and maintained two qualification trainings. Toves notes the Marshals will still be able to competently do their jobs without the two trainings.
While the 36-hour work-week vote was put off, the council did vote and pass the Judicial Building Fund Budget Plan which will suspend $900,000 in needed capital improvement projects. They also passed a 25 percent increase in court fines and fees with the exception of marriage license, court clearance, traffic clearance and photocopy fees.
Justice Carbullido says the decision for all the cuts were made collectively to avoid laying off employees.
“We’re going to try to continue to deliver the service and the employees don’t want the cut but the one realistic fact is that our budget is being cut by $1.7 million and they made the collective judgment that they don’t want to lay people off. And so it’s gonna be a sacrifice. They’re gonna work harder and be paid less,” Carbullido says.
The 36-hour work week plan is the equivalent of a 10 percent salary cut and is expected to save $807,500. The next council meeting will be held next month at the Supreme Court of Guam.