ALBANY New York's top court administrator asked lawmakers Wednesday for extra money to fund civil legal services and to keep courtrooms open longer.
The request of $1.8 billion to support statewide court operations from Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti represents a 2.5 percent year-to-year increase — more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo's overall 2 percent limit on spending growth for state agencies.
In addition to keeping many courthouses open an extra half-hour to 5 p.m., Prudenti told legislators at a budget hearing that the increased funding would cover criminal defense costs for the poor and mandated salary increases for non-judicial employees.
Prudenti said the money also would help the system avoid layoffs.
Prudenti's proposed budget provides an increase of $15 million to fund civil legal services for plaintiffs who appear without counsel in cases of eviction, domestic violence and consumer debt.
Cuomo in his budget proposal last month said that by requesting an increase over 2 percent, "the Judiciary is out of step with our fiscally responsible goal for all of New York state government."
But Prudenti said that the court system is operating on a minimal budget and could benefit from some of the $613 million the state is receiving from the JP Morgan mortgage subprime mortgage settlement, citing the state courts' work on an increasing number of foreclosure filings. Prudenti said she has been in contact with Attorney General's Eric Schneiderman's office about getting some of the money from the JP Morgan settlement.
Lawmakers are examining Cuomo's proposed $137.2 billion budget for the state fiscal year starting in April.