Court Chief Says Vetoes Could Cripple Courts

     COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal ripped Gov. Nikki Haley’s move to strip $2.8 million from the Judicial Department’s budget, saying the veto – one of 81 announced by the governor this week – could shut down the courts’ electronic case-management system.
     Haley’s vetoes — which ranged from cutting a half-million dollars intended for the state’s rape crisis centers to eliminating the entire budgets for two state agencies dedicated to promoting the arts and sciences — have set off a firestorm among the state’s political elite.
     House Speaker Bobby Harrell responded by moving up the reconvening of the state legislature from September, as planned, to early next week.
     But perhaps no one has been more openly critical of Haley, the Judge Toal, who said this week that she;s very disappointed in the governor’s office, opining that the decision to veto the judicial funding “Is obviously some incorrect work by her staff or incorrect information.”
     The state legislature had allocated $1.5 million to the Judicial Department for IT services in this year’s state spending plan, money that was to pay for a long-planned upgrade of the system. About $1.3 million in other funding was also included to cover technology-related expenses in the courts.
     The Judicial Department, for which Toal services as administrator, and at least 40 of the state’s 46 counties use the case management system to store and access records and depend on the budget line that now is at risk to keep the system going.
     Toal said if the funding is not restored, something that will require a two-third vote by both the state House and Senate, courts across the state could grid to a halt.
     But Haley’s office is standing by the cuts.
     “When it comes to budget vetoes, the governor, in her effort to be a responsible steward of tax dollars, always seems to disappoint some folks around Columbia,” said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey in a statement. “That comes with the territory.”
     Godfrey went on to tell the Courthouse News Service that when this year’s budget reached the governor’s desk, it included “15 percent growth for the Chief Justice.”
     “What we vetoed was merely 4 percent of that – meaning that even with this veto, the judicial branch’s budget grew by double-digits,” he continued. “The Chief Justice also has tremendous flexibility so spend how she sees fit, and funding for nine judges who won’t exist at least until next year – and therefore don’t cost her a single dollar.
     “On top of all this, the General Assembly just granted Chief Justice Toal the ability to raise fees at will – which the State Budget estimates will give the Judicial Branch at least $5.5 million annually. So, with all due respect to the Chief Justice, whom the governor thinks a lot of, she has more than enough money to run our court system,” Godfrey said.

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