Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin told a statewide group of magisterial district judges that funding cuts have affected the judiciary just like other agencies in the state.
Eakin spoke to the Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania Thursday evening at Park Place as part of the group's annual conference that has been meeting in the city this week, discussing legal and educational issues.
Eakin, a native of Mechanicsburg who was elected to the state Supreme Court in 2001 and retained by voters this past November, said the state's judicial system has been flatlined for the past three years.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN Jr./Sun-Gazette
State Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, right, is greeted by district magistrate judges from across the state and their guests as he steps up to give the keynote address at their conference here this week.
"We're in better shape, but we're still short," he said.
With a nearly $9 million shortfall, many seats on the bench have remained unfilled in an effort to save money.
Eakin said Pennsylvania's budget has just .5 percent devoted toward the judiciary, adding that 82 percent of the court's costs are for personnel expenses.
Only 10 states did not have a judicial budget shortfall up through 2010, according to the National Center for State Courts.
The justice also told attendees that as local level district judges, they are often the first point of contact with those dealing with the court system.
"You are face to face with the people in these cases," he said. "You are the folks of the face of justice in Pennsylvania."
As a state Supreme Court justice, Eakin said the senior panel of judges hear only from lawyers representing their clients, not the litigants.
He also said district judges are the first to get criticized upon making their rulings - usually from their own friends and neighbors in the community.
"You get criticized in a different way than we get criticized," Eakin told the district judges.