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Minnesota State Shut Down: What Does it Mean for the Courts?

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Everyone has questions about what is going to be open if there is a Minnesota government shutdown on Friday. Nicole Bettendorf from our office looked at some of the questions earlier today with:

Can I get my Driver’s License if the State Shuts Down?, Nicole Bettendorf | June 28, 2011 9:14 PM

The issue may not just be what might be open, but what is required behind the scenes to make things work. It’s one thing to say that a certain group will be at work, but what does it take to open the building?

The question we are getting a lot is : What about the Courts?

Today, Retired Judge Bruce Christopherson, who was appointed by Chief Justice Gildea, ruled that "the commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget . . . shall timely issue checks . . . so that the functions of the judicial branch can be discharged, " Judge Christopherson found that the actions of two of the branches of government couldn’t shut down the third branch. As three equal branches, the courts would stay open along side the executive and the the legislature.

Four GOP Senators , represented by Fritz Knaak, had argued that it was unconstitutional for the court to take this action because the court can’t appropriate the funds. The court acknowledged their position but found that the judicial branch was vital to perform the functions necessary to fulfill its obligations and ensure citizens’ rights under the state and federal constitutions.

But, I still wonder how broad this ruling really is. Does it cover the people that open the doors, the bailiffs outside, and money for jurors? Will it include the clerks that file the papers and set the schedules? How about the janitors that keep the building clean or the parking attendants? What about the prosecutors , public defenders, probation officers, and court reporters? There are a lot of people that function in and around the courthouse.

I notice in blog Minnesota Family Law Issues, that he wrote two weeks ago that Wright County had already:

begun to send out notices postponing conciliation court cases from July to August, as well as postponing a number of misdemeanor matters to later dates. We also now have only 5 judges with the retirement of Judge Mossey and have been told we are no longer authorized to have a retired judge 3 days per week.

This was in anticipation of not having money. What happens when the money stops? This is going to get very tough the longer and more drawn out the stoppage goes. Maybe compromise will prevent these problems. But , we will have to wait and see.