LAWRENCEVILLE -- Cutting further into the budgets of Gwinnett's courts could break the system, Superior Court Judge Tom Davis said Monday.
"We don't think we're a privilege. We're not parks and recreation, folks. We're in the Constitution. We have to be open," Davis said during a presentation to a study committee building the county government's 2012 budget.
Over the past few years of economic stress, he said, belts have been tightened as far as they can go.
"We take this seriously. We think dollars have a direct effect, especially on our ability to be efficient. ... There is a ripple effect between what we do and other places in the county, most notably in the jail, he said, adding that programs like Drug and DUI courts that reduce recidivism rates would be in jeopardy. "We've gone about as far as we can go without ruining some pretty good services."
For several years, Gwinnett's Superior Court judges have been able to catch up on a backlog of cases, but that backlog is likely to get bigger in 2011, Davis said, adding that each of the 10 judges are assigned 40 to 45 new cases a week.
The judges, who have taken furlough days with the rest of county employees, offered to give up the last $40,000 in discretionary spending they could, restricting their training each year to one required event in Athens.
But the costs of big trials and, especially, interpreters leaves little room for cuts. Davis said the county's diversity has lead to a large budget for court-mandated interpreters, including a current search for a qualified interpreter of Kosraean, a Micronesian langauge that is spoken by fewer than 8,000 people.
A recent decision by the Legislature to increase State Court filing fees has caused a decrease in that court, but Davis said the cases are being shifted to Magistrate Court, where the fees are lower.
"The assets have been redeployed," he said.
Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said she was impressed with the support from court officials in dealing with the decrease in funding in the past.
"As a Gwinnett County taxpayer, I appreciate it," she said.