ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Wednesday morning, the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court gave his State of the Judiciary address for the 2018 year.
Chief Justice Craig Stowers once again delivered the address live from the state Capitol building in Juneau. It was Stowers' third time delivering the state of the judiciary, and he didn't mince words, specifically addressing cuts made in response to a shrinking court budget.
"What is the state of the judiciary? The state of the judiciary is strong and resilient," Stowers said, joking that it would be smart of him to sit down right then and there, ending "on a high note."
Instead, Stowers continued, addressing hardships seen in the court system due to a decrease in state funds. Despite less money, Stowers said, the workload has remained the same, saying, "Public demands don’t decrease just because resources diminish."
Due to this, Stowers said court employees are increasingly having to do "more with less," a common theme for instances in which the demand outstrips the budget.
In 2015, the court employed roughly 750 people. That number is now down to 690, representing an 11 percent loss across all departments, according to Stowers.
This loss in personnel was largely due to attrition, that is, employees who resigned or retired on their own. The loss was maintained by design to avoid layoffs, something which Stowers calls a "morale killer."
To cut costs further, the court system adopted a strategy of early closure on Friday afternoons, resulting in a cut in wages of around 4 percent across the board. This helped save the court around $2 million. Stowers said that while this was not ideal, it was acceptable to avoid layoffs.
While Stowers confided that this reduction in hours, and thus pay, was a hardship for some, he believes the alternative of layoffs would have been worse on morale.
"The alternative was to simply layoff as many employees as it took to make up the $2 million in savings. But there would be a cost associated with this alternative too. Widespread layoffs are morale killers, and the constant fear that more layoffs are coming, and 'I could be next' are bigger morale killers," Stowers said.
While judges were still required to work all day Friday, as their salary can not be changed during their term, Stowers said some of them reduced their own pay by 4% in solidarity.
When addressing Alaska legislators, Stowers ended his speech with this solidarity in mind. While he didn't ask lawmakers to reduce their salary, he did touch on the subject of the regular session in the context of saving money and sticking to a budget.
"I believe that Alaskans need you folks now more than ever, and you can do this," Stowers said. "If you put your mind to it, you can probably do it in 90 days."
The address was streamed live by Gavel Alaska, and can be watched in full below: