Chief Justice Anderson has just completed his first year as the head of Minnesota's court system. And what he's seen so far is a court system overburdened by soaring caseloads and rising costs. In the past five years, felony cases rose by 43 percent.
Anderson says the courts are falling behind. Drug cases, particularly involving meth, are not only taxing the state's criminal courts, but also the family courts and child protection.
Anderson says as a result, the court is seeking a dozen more judges -- nine trial judges and three additional judges for the state's court of appeals.
"Where we used to be able to schedule these appeals to our intermediate court within 35 to 45 days, we're now finding that we can't schedule cases for hearing until 180 days out. We are falling behind; we used to be the model," says Anderson.
“We are falling behind. We used to be the model.”Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson
More than half of the court's request would go to the system's 3,000 employees. The bulk would go towards increases in cost of living and health care costs.
Other items included in the court's funding request are more interpreters; guardians ad litem who represent the best interests of children in child protection cases; and court security.
Anderson says the court is asking the Legislature for about $500,000 to place a metal detector and an armed trooper at the judicial center in St. Paul. The center is where court of appeals and the state Supreme Court hear cases, and where the judges have their chambers.
"We have received threats and letters from individuals -- and we've reported that -- who have been on the losing side, or what they perceive as the losing side, in disputes with the court system. And somehow they seem to think that they can come here and take out their anger. And so we are very mindful of our need for security and protection, and that's part of our request," Anderson says.
At the end of this year, there will be 21 drug courts operating in Minnesota. These specialized courts intensely supervise offenders charged with drug crimes such as possession or use. They also provide treatment in lieu of jail time for addicts.
The court is also asking the Legislature for more money to fund an additional 12 drug courts.