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Johnson County spared the ax

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | NOVEMBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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Employees at the Johnson County Courthouse were spared any layoffs, though judicial-branch staff statewide wasn’t so lucky.

Chief Justice Marsha Ternus announced Thursday the department would cut more than 200 positions statewide. Of those, 105 will be through layoffs; and 100 open positions will remain unfilled. An additional 58 employees will have their hours cut.

Though Lodema Berkley, the Johnson County clerk of court, was openly worried about cuts earlier this week, no one in her office will be laid off. The only effect the announcement has on Johnson County is one court reporter’s hours will be reduced.

“We were thrilled to death,” Berkley said. “We may have furlough days, but at least we all have our jobs.”

The good news may be due to luck. Berkley said she didn’t realize she had three additional positions she could have filled after the state transferred the positions to Johnson County from another courthouse. Essentially, those spots were cut. She jokingly referred to them as “the three ghost employees who were cut.”

Thursday’s announcement comes just days after the decision to enforce 10 furlough days between December and June. During those days, every courthouse in the state will close. Each of the judicial department’s 1,935 employees will take 10 days of unpaid leave.

Local officials were already concerned about the effects that would have. Nine of the 10 furlough days will be on Thursdays or Fridays, two of the office’s busiest days. With the office already handling about 1,000 files per week, backlogs will only grow, Berkley said, and clerks will have to prioritize which cases to handle first.

The layoffs and furloughs are intended to make up for a 7.1 percent budget shortfall within the judicial branch. Though Gov. Chet Culver had asked departments to take a 10 percent cut, the judicial branch was exempt from that request because it is a different branch of government.

Ternus decided not to reduce the budget by the full 10 percent because she didn’t have any departments or programs she could cut. About 95 percent of the judicial branch’s budget goes to personnel.

Clerk of courts offices statewide will also close to the public two hours early Tuesdays and Thursdays.


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