(The Center Square) — Utah’s chief justice wants lawmakers to approve salary increases for court aides, calling it the judicial council’s top budget priority for 2023.
Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant called for $3.9 million in ongoing funding during his State of the Judiciary address on Tuesday to boost the salaries of court aides.
“Currently, the average legal aid pay rate is more than 20% below market value, more than double the 10% difference from just five years ago,” Durrant said.
The three-year average turnover rate for court assistants in Utah has fallen from a “manageable” 8.65% 10 years ago to what Durrant called a “completely unsustainable” 25% by the end of 2021.
“While we are doing everything we can to resolve this issue internally, we need legislative assistance and budget prioritization,” Durrant said.
The judicial council is also seeking more money for information technology, particularly cybersecurity infrastructure, software licensing and bandwidth for rural courthouses. Lawmakers approved one-time funds last session to meet those needs, but Durrant called for those one-time funds to be converted into ongoing budget allocations.
Durrant said the COVID-19 pandemic has created a need for IT staff members to innovate over the past two years.
“Nearly every aspect of our work has been impacted to some degree by the pandemic,” Durrant said. “Utah’s court system has implemented and relied heavily on virtual meeting technology throughout the pandemic. All of our courts have used this technology to conduct virtual hearings in almost all types of proceedings other than jury trials.
Virtual hearings have brought new problems, Durrant said, including internet connection issues that have sometimes slowed proceedings.
“The Judiciary has worked to resolve issues with remote technology and appreciates the [American Rescue Plan Act] funding that you have authorized for these purposes,” Durrant said. “These are worthwhile investments.”
Durrant said continued funding was needed to create new positions, including a public outreach coordinator, a coordinator to help judges provide information in guardianship cases and a processing court coordinator at the statewide. The Judicial Council is also seeking funds to bring in a second juvenile judge to Utah’s 6.and judicial district.