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Judge visits Perham Rotary, discusses financial problems of judiciary

Sam Benshoof/FOCUS Judge Peter Irvine, second from left, visits with members of the Perham Rotary Club after his presentation on March 7.

Peter Irvine, chief judge of Minnesota's seventh judicial district, visited Perham's Rotary Club on March 7 to discuss the financial problems of the Minnesota judiciary.

Irvine works at the Becker County Courthouse in Detroit Lakes, but lives in Perham. Irvine has been a judge for 10 and a half years, and said that he is very concerned at some of the problems facing the judiciary.

"When I grew up, I would go to the courthouse, and whatever needed to get done got done," Irvine said. "The court system was there."

However, Irvine said, the judicial branch of Minnesota is in a serious situation right now.

The Minnesota judicial branch is made of district judges, appellate judges and Supreme Court judges.

The 300 district judges alone process more than two million cases a year, Irvine said.

Overall, the Minnesota judiciary takes up only 1.8 percent of the state budget, he said, yet the system typically brings in $25 million a year to the state general fund through fines and other charges.

According to Irvine, the judicial system is already 10-15 percent understaffed in an attempt to save money.

"We haven't replaced people who've left," he said.

Irvine pointed to other technological measures that the judiciary has been enacting in order to save money, including citation call centers, where people can pay fines electronically, rather than deal with a court employee.

Irvine also said another solution has been to attempt to have court reporters monitor multiple courtrooms at a time in order to cut down on staff.

However, with Minnesota's large deficit and looming budget cuts, further sacrifices in the court system may be necessary, Irvine said.

If the Legislature enacts a 15-20 percent cut across the board as is being proposed, Irvine said that would mean a reduction of 700 people from the 3,000 employed under the Minnesota judicial branch.

"The court system has no assets, only people," he said. "More than 90 percent of our budget goes to people who help process court files."

Irvine told Rotary that he and other judges are trying to get out into communities to let people know the potential impact of budget cuts to the judicial system.

"We've decided we have to go out into communities and let people know their world will not be the same in the future," he said.

Irvine encouraged the Rotary Club to contact local legislators to voice their support for the judicial system.