To keep the wheels of justice rolling, court clerks are vital, the Utah Judicial Council says. But the state courts pay 8 percent to 9 percent below comparable jobs in other courts, making retention of experienced personnel difficult.
To stem the flow, the council, which sets policy for the state courts, voted Thursday to ask the Legislature for $640,000 for raises for deputy court clerks. That amount would give 71 percent of clerks a small raise to bring them a little closer to the market pay.
The request, for the fiscal 2008 court budget, is to be presented to legislators at the upcoming session in January.
Also on the list of priorities for a total of about $1.4 million in funding: seven law clerk positions, a 3rd District Juvenile Court judge, a 3rd District court commissioner, replacement of data processing equipment, computer software and a pilot program to help non-lawyer litigants who represent themselves.
The pilot program for self-represented litigants would provide support services in the 2nd Judicial District, which covers Davis, Morgan and Weber counties, and the 8th Judicial District, which covers Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah counties. If successful, it would eventually serve all districts in the state.
According to an Administrative Office of the Courts report, statistics show that the program would provide essential services: In 2005, 47 percent of the parties in 12,828 divorce filings were not represented by attorneys. Even higher percentages of people representing themselves occurred in filings for protective orders, stalking injunctions and guardianships.
Court personnel say that these non-lawyers require more time in court, fail to bring necessary evidence and do not understand procedural rules.
Many of the litigants simply cannot afford to hire an attorney, with nearly half who responded to a survey early this year reporting annual incomes of $24,000 or less.