-If the tax initiatives pass, court services would be reduced so drastically it could challenge the constitutional integrity of Utah's judiciary, jurists warn.
"The tax initiatives could bring to a screeching halt the tremendous progress made during the past years in the time it takes a case to go to court or receive a decision on appeal," says 3rd District Judge J. Dennis Frederick.Most divorce cases and custody battles are currently resolved in a few months. Three domestic-relations commissioners, who serve throughout Utah, now assist in hearing and resolving 42 percent of domestic cases.
If the initiatives pass, $4.5 million of the judiciary's $22 million budget would be cut. The commissioners' role would be eliminated, Frederick said.
A bottleneck in the domestic cases would result in a delay for civil and criminal cases. Judges have a mandate to hear criminal cases within 30 days. If the domestic and civil calendars are delayed, then the 30-day speedy trial rule "could be a constitutional problem," Frederick said.
Sensitive to the personal turmoil created by court delay in any kind of unresolved conflict, Frederick believes postponing domestic cases is particularly damaging to children.
"Sadly, children are often the pawns in divorce cases. Questions of custody and visitation should be addressed as early as possible," he said.
Postponing domestic cases can also lead to the potential of violence in the lives of divorcing couples and in the courtroom.
"Domestic cases are so fraught with emotion. The longer the matter sits and remains dormant, the more people become inflamed. Over 50 percent of the violence in courtrooms occurs in domestic cases," Frederick said.
Frederick is careful to point out that the judiciary may outline the effects of the tax cuts on Utah's courts - as requested by the governor - but judges may not take an official position opposing or supporting the initiatives.
Other critical services that could be discontinued include:
-Small claims court. Instead of taking cases involving disputes of under $1,000 to small claims court for a quick and inexpensive resolution, a citizen would have to hire an attorney and take the case to court.
-Judges who now travel to outlying areas of a county to hold court would not leave their courtroom. For instance, those living in Kanab would need to travel to the court in Richfield.
-Juvenile court would lose 33 probation officers, leaving only 11 officers statewide.
"These are not scare tactics but the cold realities of what a $4.5 million cut in the judiciary would mean. The quality of justice would be compromised," said State Court Administrator William Vickrey.
-Murray City officials have estimated that the passage of the initiatives would reduce the city's revenues by about $500,000. Details of what services would be cut are available at the city offices, library or through the Murray School District.
The Murray City School District projects that the initiatives passage would reduce its revenues by $1.7 million. The district expects some services would be eliminated or curtailed as a result.
The Salt Lake County Commission estimates that its budget would be reduced by $39 million. It has announced specific plans for cuts in a number of services, including libraries, senior citizens center, recreation center, parks, fire and police.
"You should know that many supporters of the initiatives dispute the above figure and feel that the impact on city, school and county services would be less. We feel that the above amounts are based on the best information available to us," the mayor and council members say in an official statement.
"As elected officials, we are advised that we have a responsibility to provide the facts as we know them and leave the debate to others."