December 22, 2008

Yet another legacy of the law-and-order Republican crowd:

Reporting from Brentwood, N.H. -- Come February, the red-brick Rockingham County Courthouse, one of New Hampshire's busiest, will arraign criminal suspects, process legal motions and otherwise deal with murders, mayhem and contract disputes. What it won't do is hold jury trials.

The economic storm has come to this: Justice is being delayed or disrupted in state courtrooms across the country.

Financially strapped New Hampshire has become a poster child for the problem. Among other cost-cutting measures, state courts will halt for a month all civil and criminal jury trials early next year to save $73,000 in jurors' per diems. Officials warn they may add another four-week suspension.

"It brings our system almost to a screeching halt," said county prosecutor James M. Reams. His aides are scrambling to reschedule 77 criminal trials that were on the February docket.

"All the effort to subpoena witnesses and prepare for those trials is right out the window," Reams said, frustration in his voice. "Internally, it's a monumental waste of time. We'll have to redo everything."

At least 19 other states, including California, have slashed court budgets and other government services as their economies have tanked, said Daniel Hall, vice president of the National Center for State Courts, a nonprofit in Williamsburg, Va.

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