NEW ORLEANS— Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson on Monday laid out all the reasons she thinks the local court system should be given more to do the job it is entrusted with.
“As you know, our budget request for the upcoming fiscal year has been filed asking for $180 million, an amount needed to fund an effective court system,” she said while delivering the annual state of the judiciary address before state lawmakers and colleagues. “We are cognizant of today’s budgetary challenges and competing priorities. We do not deem ourselves immune from the financial difficulties facing our state. Our budget was not created in a vacuum.”
In an address that came just days after the state House stalled the proposed budget bill, Johnson, the first African-American chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, laid out why she and her colleagues need the resources they do just to be who they are.
“Although each of the judges in our state are elected, their ultimate allegiance is to the constitution and rule of law,” she said. “A judge cannot be partisan, despite which way political winds may be blowing. I think we have been good stalwarts. Adequate funding is critical to funding an independent judiciary. We owe it to our citizens to provide them with a judiciary armed with the financial resources necessary to assure access to justice for all.”
Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson
Johnson said all the court’s discretionary spending is allocated to programs that yield monetary savings for the state, especially the state’s drug core program, which has proven to reduce incarceration and recidivism.
In the end, Johnson said it is unconscionable to think that court system funding can be cut to the point that the system’s most vulnerable are left to uphold it.
“It is unreasonable to think we can cut funding to courts and then expect mostly indigent criminal defendants to take up the slack,” she said. “Would you have faith in the system if you knew that every single actor in the criminal justice system – including the judges, the district attorneys, the court-appointed lawyers – everybody relied upon a steady stream of guilty pleas and verdicts to fund the office?”