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Death Penalty Ruling Illuminates Inadequate Funding

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Last week, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd issued an order finding, “[T]he death penalty in Alabama is being imposed in a ‘wholly arbitrary and capricious manner.’” Judge Todd, also cites “inadequate funding has detrimentally affected, the ability of any judge to adequately comport with the theoretical or practical application of the law.”

SEE ORDER

death_rowShe found that “due to inadequate funding of the Judicial Branch, the constitutional rights of citizens in Alabama are being violated routinely and/or the proper administration of the law is affected daily in the Alabama.”

In the order, Judge Todd listed a “non-exhaustive summary of the crippling effect of judicial underfunding, which includes critical departments have been gutted and left with loyal and dedicated staff who are over worked, over whelmed and humanely unable to keep pace with the demands of the judicial system; citizens are unlawfully arrested and detained because orders are not processed properly and/or in a timely manner; evidence in capital cases has been lost due to inadequate evidence storage and inefficient retention policies; subpoenas are not executed properly if an attempt to execute was made at all; inmates are not awarded accurate jail credit; and detained defendants are all too often held for long periods of time without hearings because notice of detention is not communicated to the judge.”

Chief Justice Roy Moore has repeatedly called on the State Legislature to adequately fund the unified judicial system. In 2012, before he was reelected Chief Justice told alreporter.com, “We have to awaken the Legislature to the fact that we are a Branch of the government and not an agency,” said Moore. “The courts have a major function in government, and we produce a lot of revenue.”

Again, in 2013, Chief Justice Moore said, “If we don’t get the funding we need, we will have to cut more service,” adding, “Cutting jobs, depleting the workforce of the court, is a blow to the justice system and the people of the State.”

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In 2014, the Alabama court system found itself in financial turmoil. This time, Chief Justice Moore turned to Governor Robert Bentley for help, but no help was forthcoming. And in December 2015, Justice Moore called on the Legislature to release $12 million in conditional funding to keep the Judicial System operating properly. “We don’t mind that the Judicial Branch suffers, if every Branch of government suffers. We are finding that is not the case,” said Moore.

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At a press conference, Justice Moore pointed out that the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch have been awarding pay raises and promotions, while the Judicial Branch had been denied money to do the same. Justice Moore said he didn’t want to sound as if were complaining, but that it was time for a fair and equitable funding system that treats every Branch of government equally. “We know what is happening, and we will not remain quiet,” said the Chief Justice.

Even faced with the crucial analysis of Judge Todd’s order, the State Legislature plans to level fund the Judicial Branch contrary to the Alabama Constitution of 1901 Article VI which states in part, “Adequate and reasonable financing for the entire unified judicial system shall be provided. Adequate and reasonable appropriations shall be made by the Legislature for the entire unified judicial system.”

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