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Eye On Boise

State of the Judiciary: ‘A remarkable year for Idaho’s courts’

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick delivers his annual 'State of the Judiciary' message to the Idaho Senate on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick delivers his annual 'State of the Judiciary' message to the Idaho Senate on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick congratulated the Legislature today for “wisely identifying two of the chronic problems that impact Idahoans and the judicial system,” by launching interim committees both to examine public defender reform and to conduct a criminal justice reinvestment project in conjunction with the Council of State Governments and the Pew Trusts; Burdick called it "a remarkable year for Idaho's courts."

“Idaho’s public defenders system today has significant deficiencies,” Burdick told the Senate in his annual State of the Judiciary message, which he’ll also deliver to the House today. “It is a patchwork of offices and contracts paid for by our already cash-starved counties. I congratulate the public defender interim committee for recommending legislation that will provide a solid first step in meeting our constitutional requirements.”

He lauded proposals to launch a public defense commission; to eliminate single fixed-fee contracts for public defenders; to provide training funds; and to authorize counties to establish public defense offices or contracts that meet their local needs. Burdick also applauded the justice reinvestment project, which is calling for changes in Idaho’s probation and parole system to reduce the lengthy incarceration of non-violent offenders and direct the state’s prison resources more efficiently.

The chief justice also noted recent national recognition for Idaho’s domestic violence courts and its child welfare system, while noting a challenge facing the court system on technology. “Our existing 25-year-old system is at ‘end of life’ and we must plan to move to a new one,” he said. A pending proposal will transform Idaho’s case management system and move to electronic filing and storage of court records. “This new technology will provide cost savings to taxpayers, optimize the use of court personnel at the state and county level, free up limited physical space from paper records in our county courthouses and storage facilities, and greatly improve the court’s ability to serve justice throughout the state,” he said. “It is now time to come to you and the governor for funding.” The courts have requested $4.85 million state general funds for the project in the coming year; Gov. Butch Otter has recommended approving the request.

Burdick also noted challenges in recruiting judges, as many current ones near retirement age. "The key barrier to recruiting and retaining the highest caliber judges is quite frankly salary," he told the Senate.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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