Washington State Court Funding Task Force
One of the charges of the Problem Definition Work Group of the Washington State Court Funding Task Force is to assess the adequacy of trial court funding. However, to begin this task, the Work Group must first be able to quantify how trial courts are currently funded. In order to establish a baseline, a project to compile accurate fiscal data for the year 2000 was undertaken, the result of which is contained in this report.
The early work of the Court Funding Task Force established current funding of the trial courts at 417 million dollars annually. This figure was derived from the State Auditor’s Office Local Government Financial Reporting System (LGFRS) data and state budget allocations that were easily identifiable as state expenditures directly supporting trial courts. While the LFGRS and State Budget Data provide a general idea of the amount spent on trial court operations they lack both the level of desired detail. Of particular interest and concern was the degree to which the LGFRS data included criminal indigent defense costs.
In order to gain more detailed information Chief Justice Gerry Alexander sent a letter to the Auditor in each County on behalf of the Court Funding Task Force asking for the year-end expenditure report for FY 2000 for the offices of the Superior Court, Juvenile Court, County Clerk, District Court, Prosecuting Attorney, and Public Defender. Letters were also sent to a sample of 15 cities requesting the same budget information. Upon receipt of the budget data, AOC staff, working directly with local officials, codified the individual budgets into a common format using uniform line item categories.
The result of this data collection effort provides the courts with their first real look in 20 years at the total cost of trial court operations.
SPECIAL THANK YOU
This report would not have been possible without the diligent efforts of Ms. Julia Appel, Court Services Specialist. Ms. Appel spent countless hours contacting trial courts to parse budgets into common categories and to ensure that, in the end, all the numbers added up. And, of course, a thank you is due to the trial court personnel that also spent countless hours responding to Ms. Appel’s inquiries with good humor and good results. Thank you.
In December of 1980, the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts published a report titled 1980 Washington State Court Finance Study, (1980 Study) a work that parallels this current effort to understand how courts are funded in Washington State.
The 1980 Study was designed to address five major aspects of trial court funding:
1. The organizational and functional nature of the Washington court system and the types of costs appropriately attributable to it.
2. The cost of operation of the Washington court system and a demonstration of which governments bear the cost.
3. The revenue produced by the Washington courts and how it is distributed among various governments.
4. The financial management systems and structures affecting court finances in Washington.
5. The major strengths and weaknesses of court finance in the State of Washington, general findings and recommendations.
The general methodology of inquiry was the same as the current report: gathering actual court budget expenditure reports and through direct contact with appropriate court staff, attempting to place individual court expenditures in common categories across all courts.
While the methodology employed was similar, the data presented should not be considered as a point of base comparison to this current effort to describe court funding in the year 2000. A direct comparison is not considered appropriate because the original data upon which the 1980 Study was based is not available for comparison to the FY 2000 data. Further, the expenditure categories used in the 1980 Study are not the same as those used in this current study. With that said, the 1980 Study summarized 1978 through 1980 court expenditures as shown in Table 1 below (without adjustment to 2000 dollars).
Throughout this report caveats regarding the data are indicated, ranging from imputing data to jurisdictions from which data was unavailable to general assumptions regarding the inclusion or exclusion of certain specific expenses. The reader is cautioned against reading this data to be and holding this data forth as the definitive or absolute cost of operating trial courts in Washington State. This data is thought to be, in the aggregate, plus or minus five percent accurate. As the report delves into deeper detail of specific functions at different court levels, the margin of error will increase and, depending upon the particular detail, may well approach a 15 percent margin of error or greater.
This report relies upon three primary sources of data:
Local Government Financial Reporting System Data
LGFRS data was used to establish the initial cost estimate of trial court expenditures of $417 million presented to the Court Funding Task Force in the Fall of 2002. However, the LGFRS data does not provide the desired level of detail and, more importantly, includes indigent criminal defense expenditures without distinction from other trial court expenditures. The LGFRS data also includes “intergovernmental charge backs,” an accounting system not utilized by all jurisdictions further blurring the picture presented by the LGFRS data.
It should be generally noted that there are, in many instances, fairly significant differences between the LGFRS data and the budget reports received for individual counties. Further, there is not a consistent relationship between the differences in terms of one source generally showing a greater amount than the other. However, in the aggregate, across all counties, the difference is generally less than five percent. Therefore, aggregate data from both sources are compared as a basic check point to provide some assurance that the data is within a few percentage points of confidence.
As noted in the section on municipal courts, the LGFRS data is largely relied upon for determining total expenditures for municipal courts. An estimation of indigent criminal defense costs by municipalities is provided based on data separately provided by the eight largest independent municipal courts representing 67.4% of all expenditures by independent municipal courts.
FY 2000 Year End Expenditure Reports
The data from the FY 2000 year end reports comprises the majority of the data presented in this report. However, several cautionary notes are in order:
Most problematic is the fact that data is being received from 39 county jurisdictions all of which, while adhering to the BARS accounting codes, break their budgets into varying and different degrees of detail at the line item level. While the main focus of this effort was to attempt to break out detail from aggregated line items, it is assumed that some error occurred in the translation and that not all costs for a particular detail are completely captured. Therefore, the confidence level in the aggregate totals is greater than that of the detailed totals.
Included in the above is a sense that some data is missing because it is carried in other departmental budgets. Two likely areas of omission are expenditures (staff) funded by Federal Title IV-D reimbursements and State Criminal Justice Funds that are often accounted for in separate budgets within the Counties. It is considered very likely, given the wide range of budgeting practices across the counties, that other examples exist, some of little consequence and some of larger magnitude.
Interdepartmental Charge-Back Systems
Another difficulty encountered was that some jurisdictions employ a “charge-back” system to account for costs such as rent, utilities, and janitorial services. Following consultation with the Problem Definition Work Group, it was decided that these costs would be excluded from the final report.
Complete data was only received from 33 of the 39 counties, requiring that data be imputed based on expenditures of similarly sized court offices for some jurisdictions.
Washington State Institute for Public Policy Data
Expenditure data for the juvenile courts is based upon data collected by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy documenting juvenile court expenditures for FY 2001. The data is based upon extensive communication with juvenile court personnel to delineate expenditures into common categories.
The decision to utilize the WSIPP data for juvenile court was based on two factors: the amount of effort that would have been required to complete a new analysis of juvenile court expenditures and the fact that the WSIPP data identifies both local and state expenditures for juvenile services.
There are two significant differences between the WSIPP data and the data used for the rest of the report. First, the WSIPP data is based on FY 2001 expenditures rather than FY 2000 expenditures. Second, the WSIPP data is presented very differently from the data presented for the other entities. This is both a strength and a weakness. The obvious weakness is that the data is not categorized using the same framework as the rest of the report, particularly as it relates to identifying direct personnel expenditures and indigent defense costs. On the other hand, the WSIPP data is structured functionally to capture costs for BECCA programs, non-BECCA Dependency, offender supervision and probation, other offender services, and detention. And, as previously mentioned, the data shows county, state, federal and other expenditures, providing a more complete picture of juvenile court funding.
In FY 2000, it is estimated that a total of $341,696,638 was expended by state and local government to operate the trial courts in Washington State. This figure excludes both “intergovernmental charge-backs” and capital expenditures (both capital equipment purchases and capital facility expenditures).
For a number of reasons, as noted both in the data integrity section of this report and in later sections, it is likely that this figure under reports total expenditures. However, this figure is thought to be within five percent of total actual expenditures.
The state expenditures reported are only direct expenditures consisting primarily of Superior Court Judge salaries and benefits at Superior Court and a wide variety of juvenile court services in the form of DSHS pass through funding for juvenile courts. The direct state expenditures represent 13.3 percent of the total expenditures.
The report does not attempt to account for state expenditures that indirectly support the trial courts, which would primarily consist of funding of the Administrative Office of the Courts. The Administrative Office of the Courts provides the Judicial Information System utilized by a vast majority of courts, provides education for judicial officers, and other services that support the courts in their daily operations.
Local Government Expenditures
Counties and cities provide 86.7% of the funding for trial court operations. In addition, counties and cities provide 100% of the funding for indigent criminal defense services at the trial court level.
Other Governmental and Private Expenditures
The report does not capture other funding that may support trial courts such as federal reimbursements and grants and other private grants which individual courts may apply for and receive.
Data was not received from eight counties. Data was imputed to seven of the counties based on selecting other courts of comparable size in terms of both Judicial Officer and 40 hour work week FTE (2000 AOC Superior Court Caseload report) as noted in Table 3 below. Data was not imputed for Garfield County because data was received from the other two counties within the Asotin, Garfield and Columbia County Judicial District. Further, the 2000 LGFRS data for Garfield County indicates expenditures of only $30,456.
The sum of the imputed data is $3,899,246 representing 5.3% of the total amount reported for all courts (this sum includes the inter-departmental charges, capital expenditures, and indigent criminal defense costs contained to facilitate comparison to the LGFRS data). The imputed amount is eight percent ($288,000) more than the LGFRS data for these eight counties. Based on the foregoing, the imputed amounts are seen as being within an acceptable range.
Superior Court Summary
Counties expended $63,728,525 for Superior Court operations in FY 2000, excluding interdepartmental charges, capital out-lay, and criminal indigent defense costs contained in trial court budgets. The majority of this expense was salary and benefits, which for all categories of personnel, comprised 73.7 percent of total expenditures. Superior Court Judge and Court Commissioner salary and benefits represented 26.3% of the total expense. Staff salary and benefits represented 44.5% of the total expense.
Jury expenses totaled more than $4.2 million, approximately 6.6% of the court budgets. Total court system (Superior Court, County Clerk, District Court, Municipal Court) jury expenditures are considered separately at Page 22.
Not included within the definition of trial court expenditures are criminal indigent defense costs which were contained in trial court budgets, comprising 7.2% of the total expenditures. Criminal indigent defense costs are considered separately beginning on page 23.
Judicial Officer Salary and Benefits
Table 5 reflects total County expenditures for judicial officer salary and benefits at $17.6 million annually. This amount does not reflect State expenditures, through the Administrative Office of the Courts for Superior Court Judge salaries and benefits. It should also be noted that in FY 2000 half of the cost of benefits for superior court judges were paid by counties and this costs is therefore reflected in Table 5. The State is now, again, wholly responsible for superior court judge benefits.
Staff Salary and Benefits
In the majority of superior court budgets, salaries were presented in lump sum form. That is, salary expenditures for individual FTE were not parsed into individual line items. This disallowed an attempt to provide salary detail by FTE functional category. However, FTE counts by functional category were obtained and are reflected in Table 6.
One of the goals of this project was to examine expenditures by category type. Most of the non-personnel related costs fall under the “other services” category. However, detail was only readily discernable for a few sub-categories, as shown in Table 7. “Miscellaneous Juvenile” expenditures and “Miscellaneous Other” expenditures accounted for more than 51% of the “other services” identified.
Further, an attempt was made to identify program specific expenditures for Unified Family, Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Drug Courts. Table 8 shows the result, but is probably not inclusive of all programs in all superior courts nor inclusive of all the costs for the programs that were discernable. Additionally, one court reported expenditures for a pre-trial services/probation program which were captured.
County Clerk expenditure data was not received from six counties. Data was imputed to these counties by selecting County Clerk Offices of comparable size in terms of 40 hour work week FTE (2000 AOC Superior Court Caseload report) as noted in Table 9 below.
The sum of the imputed data is $2,040,433 representing 5.3% of the total amount reported for all county clerk offices (including the inter-departmental charges, capital expenditures and indigent criminal defense costs in the Clerk’s Office budgets). Excluding Walla Walla County for which LGFRS data was not available, the imputed amount is seven percent ($117,000) more than the LGFRS data for the remaining five counties.
County Clerk Summary
The total amount expended for County Clerk offices in FY 2000 was $37,659,943, not including Inter-Departmental Charges, Capital Outlay, and Indigent Criminal Defense costs. Approximately 83 percent of expenditures were for staff salary and benefits, including extra-help expenses.
Staff Salary and Benefits
In the majority of County Clerk budgets, salaries were presented in lump sum form. That is, salary expenditures for individual FTE were not parsed into individual line items. This disallowed an attempt to provide salary detail by FTE functional category. However, FTE counts by functional category were obtained and are reflected in Table 11.
Two items are worthy of note in the Other Services category for County Clerks. First, as was anticipated, a significant expense is legal advertising costs. Second, Miscellaneous Other expenses accounted for slightly more that 48 percent of the total for the Other Services category.
Program specific expenses for County Clerks were only captured for two programs, both within King County. A total of $264,787 was reported for Drug Court and $163,510 was reported for a Drug Diversion program.
The WSIPP data does not include information from Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Douglas, Grant or Wahkiakum Counties. No effort is made to impute data to these jurisdictions. First, it is assumed that the dollars amounts in question would be relatively minor. Second, Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Wahkiakum Counties provide some services jointly with other counties, so some costs from these counties may be included in the reported expenditures from other counties. The result of not attempting to impute data for these counties is an underreporting of total juvenile expenditures, though the error is probably less than two or three percentage points.
Juvenile Court Summary
Table 13 details total expenditures of $117,242,658 for juvenile court operations based on the WSIPP data. However, a separate survey of Juvenile Court Administrators indicates that included in the WSIPP data for County expenditures were $1,470,602 for indigent defense services (offender and dependency/termination). The adjusted total is therefore 115,772,056 with costs apportioned between the Counties (75.0 %) and the State (25.0%).
Not included in Table 13 are expenditures of $3.25 million of federal funds and $1.76 million in funds from other sources (presumably private grants) that were identified in the WSIPP data.
Dependency and BECCA Services
One major advantage of the WSIPP data was distinguishing between expenditures for the BECCA and dependency/termination caseloads. While overall the data suggests that the State participates heavily in funding dependency services, the focus of the State funding is almost exclusively for the BECCA caseload.
Deferred disposition/probation and other offender services are supported almost equally by County and State funds. Diversion programs are primarily supported with County funds.
Detention services are the most significant expense in juvenile court operations, comprising 40.8 percent of all juvenile court expenditures and are supported primarily with County funds.
District Court expenditure data was not received for eight district court offices. Data was imputed to these counties by selecting District Courts of comparable size in terms Judicial Officer FTE and 40 hour work week FTE (2000 AOC Superior Court Caseload report) as noted in Table 17 below.
The sum of the imputed data is $5,564,481 representing 8.6% of the total amount reported for all district courts (including the inter-departmental charges, capital expenditures and indigent criminal defense costs in the courts’ budgets). The imputed amount is 9.8 percent more than the LGFRS data for these courts.
District Court Summary
District Court expenditures follow the same trend as the other offices examined: personnel costs comprise the majority of expenditures at 84.6 percent of the total.
Judicial Officer Salary and Benefits
Staff Salary and Benefits
In the majority of district court budgets, salaries were presented in lump sum form. That is, salary expenditures for individual FTE were not parsed into individual line items. This disallowed an attempt to provide salary detail by FTE functional category. However, FTE counts by functional category were obtained and are reflected in Table 20.
Probation services specific expenditures were identifiable in 20 district court budgets and probation services staffs (FTE) were identified for 19 courts. Table 22 includes the identifiable expenditures for just those 20 jurisdictions. It should be assumed that other additional district courts provide probation services and that there are costs associated with the provision of those services. Further, even within the 20 courts summarized in Table 22 there were likely costs that were not captured and are not included.
As with the juvenile court data, an alternative approach was used to estimate expenditures for municipal courts. The primary reason for employing this alternative approach was that AOC staff resources were not available to replicate the method used for Superior Courts, County Clerks, and District Courts. Notwithstanding the above, data was requested from fifteen municipalities and received from nine independent municipal courts for which an analysis was completed.
Further the analysis of municipal court expenditures is broken into two sections: expenditures for municipalities that contract with district courts for services and expenditures for “independent” municipal courts.
Municipalities Contracting With District Courts for Services
In FY 2000 a total of 123 municipalities contracted with district courts for services (including 15 municipalities that either had previously contracted with district court services or had ceased contracting and created an independent municipal court within the fiscal year).
Expenditures by municipalities for district court services in FY 2000 were calculated based on one of four methods:
• Expenditures reported in FY 2000 LGFRS data for judicial system expenditures. This data was reported as either Intergovernmental-Interfund (bars code 512.50.50) or Interfund Payment (512.50.90). For those jurisdictions where it was known that the municipality contracted for district court services, the aforementioned bars codes were the primary expenditure codes reported. In limited numbers, expenditures were categorized as other services, supplies, and in six instances, salary.
• For municipal courts where it was known that a change was made from contract to independent in either FY 2000 or a prior year, expenditures for intergovernmental-interfund and interfund payments were counted as costs for contracting for municipal court services. All other expenditures for those courts are reported and counted in the section on independent municipal courts.
• Data for municipalities that contracted for services, but for which no LGFRS data was available or reported was imputed in one of two ways:
o An average cost per case was calculated from those courts where data was available based on LGFRS reported expenditures and municipal filings within the district courts from the AOC 2000 Limited Jurisdiction Case Load Report. In calculating the average cost, the low and high 25% were excluded from the calculation. That average cost per case was then multiplied by the number of cases filed by each municipal jurisdiction for which LGFRS data was unavailable.
o LGFRS data was not reported for several municipalities within King County. It is known that municipal contracts for district court services provide that King County receives 75% of the revenues collected as payment for services (revenues which would be deposited in the municipality’s general fund). A separate effort had previously calculated FY 2001 municipal court revenues based upon JIS Revenue Remittance Summary Reports. That data was used to impute “expenditures” to those municipalities contracting for services in King County.
With the preceding caveats in place, Table 23 summarizes the estimated expenditures for district court services by municipalities in FY 2000.
Independent Municipal Courts
A total of 123 independent municipal courts were identified, of which ten formerly contracted for district court services.
LGFRS data was not available for eight of the one-hundred twenty-three courts and data was imputed by the same method used for independent municipal courts: an average cost per case was calculated using the middle 50% of courts based on cost per case. The total cost for the court was calculated by multiplying the average cost per case by the number of cases filed in 2000. Expenditures were then apportioned among the expenditure categories based on the overall percentages found in the other 115 courts.
The break-out of expenditure categories using LGFRS data for independent municipal courts is skewed by data from the Cities of Spokane and Seattle which comprise 4.5 million (88.2%) and 6.8 million (91.4%) of the Interfund and Intergovernmental-Interfund expenditures respectively.
Criminal Indigent Defense Expenditures by Municipalities
Table 24 above includes the cost to municipalities for providing criminal indigent defense for eligible defendants within their jurisdiction, but those costs are not delineated. In order to ascertain expenditures for criminal indigent defense services within the total reported $55.9 million, indigent defense costs for the eight largest courts, representing 67.4% of total independent municipal court expenditures, were identified. Table 25 shows that, on average and with some considerable variation, indigent defense expenditures comprised 24.0% of expenditures allocated to municipal court within the LGFRS data.
Using this percentage to extrapolate the total expenditures by municipalities with independent municipal courts for criminal indigent defense services results in an estimate of $13,423,207.
Select Sample of Municipal Courts
A sample of 15 municipal courts was selected for detailed review and copies of FY 2000 expenditures were requested. The sample used was the same one used by the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Work Group for in-depth review and was based on court size, geography and service delivery model. Nine of the fifteen courts responded. All of the responding courts were independent municipal courts. Table 27 provides an analysis of the expenditures for the nine courts from which data was received.
Table 28 reflects jury expenses for Superior and District Courts. At the Superior Court, jury costs were within the court’s budget in 29 counties, though in 4 of those counties, jury costs were also reported in the County Clerk’s Office. Jury costs were found exclusively in the County Clerk’s Office in three counties. Jury costs were identified in 32 district court offices, with no jury costs being identified in five offices.
Jury costs for Municipal courts were not captured, though for the ten municipal courts for which detailed information was obtained, jury costs represented only 0.6% of the total budgets. This compares to district courts where jury costs were found to comprise only 1.0% of the total budgets. Based on this, at 1.0%, jury costs for the independent municipal courts can be estimated at $ 559,300.
As has been noted throughout this report, the identification and segregation of criminal indigent defense costs from trial court operations is a major issue. Table 29, to some extent, is a good descriptor of some of that problem: indigent defense costs are budgeted in three or four different ways, or a combination thereof:
1. They are contained in a trial court’s operational budget;
2. They are contained in a separate office of public defense/assigned counsel budget;
3. They are contained in a departmental budget other than the trial court or office of public defense/assigned counsel; and/or
4. They are contained in a general “non-departmental” budget;
Further, how those costs appear in the various budgets varies greatly depending upon both the above four budget options and the actual service delivery method. Costs for indigent defense services in court budgets were found in general cost line items such as “professional services,” “other services,” and “contract services.” Where services are contracted with or through another governmental entity, the costs may be classified as “inter-governmental” or “inter-fund” transfers. And, in the case of offices of public defense and assigned counsel, where the attorneys providing services are employees of the government, costs are obviously contained across the whole spectrum of line items present in any “department” of government (e.g., salaries, benefits, supplies, training, travel, etc. etc.).
Table 29 reflects total expenditures for indigent defense services at $78,733,803. This figure is most likely understated for all the reasons described above. It is impossible to ferret out all of the costs for indigent defense services because they are contained in so many different places in so many different ways. This effort certainly did not find them all.
1 Total amount of costs for indigent defense services identified in court/clerk budget.
2 Total amount identified for County Offices of Public Defense providing services in Superior, Juvenile and District Courts or for indigent defense services in other non-court county budgets.
3 Total amount identified for indigent defense services by municipalities without regard to how or where the amount was budgeted (e.g., Court budget, Office of Public Defense, other city department or non-departmental budget).
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