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Moore puts blame on governor

BNI Newswire

MONTGOMERY – Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore announced all jury trials would continue through October and blamed Gov. Don Siegelman for forcing Monday’s announced moratorium on civil juries.

In an order to all Alabama courts, Moore said he would "immediately start the process to resume all jury trials, both civil and criminal."

Moore had said in earlier news reports that he would not accept the $500,000 Siegelman offered from the Departmental Emergency Fund.

He clarified Thursday at a special "sit-down" news conference that he rejected that offer because the governor stated the monies would be "a loan."

"I objected that the money was offered as a loan," Moore said. "If the governor loans money to the judiciary, are they indebted to him?"

State Finance Director Henry Mabry said Wednesday that the $500,000 would be transferred to the court system as a grant and would not have to be repaid.

Moore has been criticized for not making more minor cuts earlier in the year, rather than waiting until Monday to cut a central part of the judiciary system.

Based on the governor’s assurance in a January meeting, Moore said, he believed that Siegelman would remedy the budget deficit without forcing cuts.

"He agreed to help us when the money was available, but (when the money was available) he didn’t, he sent it to other groups," the chief justice said, referring to $13 million from a legal settlement with Shell Oil Company that was instead used to fund pay raises to Alabama teachers and state employees.

"What I did was trust the governor’s word."

Carrie Kurlander, press secretary to Siegelman, said he has never disputed the meetings between he and Moore, and that he is pleased jury trials will resume.

"It’s time to move on. But it’s been documented in early meetings," Kurlander said, that Moore asked Siegelman for funding help. "There were assertions that promises were made. But we’re not interested in finger-pointing," she said.

Moore said the governor could have granted raises to some of the state’s employees and used the rest of the money to fix the $2.7 million shortfall in the budget of the Administrative Office of Courts.

Moore complained Thursday that the judiciary is not being treated as "a coequal branch of government."

"Neither the executive or legislative branch have stopped merit pay raises. Neither have laid off employees," Moore said, adding that the AOC has halted all merit pay raises and laid off around 170 employees. "That’s unfair, and it’s not a coequal treatment of separate branches of government."

Moore said that, barring any extraordinary trial expenses, the major functions of the judiciary would continue normally, aside from the absence of those 170 employees. However, when the new fiscal year begins on October 1, much would depend on the status of the judicial system’s budget. Moore said he and AOC director Rich Hobson have discussed possible plans to trim the judicial branch’s budget, but cannot yet give details.

"We can’t overspend what we’re allocated," Moore said. "I’ve talked to judges, clerks and court reporters and assured them that before cuts are made, they will all have input, but we’ll have no choice but to make cuts accordingly."

Hobson said the budget shortfall has shrunk, but is only "down to $6.5 million, without having to cut anything as far as personnel."

Laura Susan Bamberg contributed to this report.