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Strine, Markell clash over budget priorities

Delaware’s top judge says he’s “disappointed” with Gov. Jack Markell’s (D) proposed operating and capital budgets.

Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. recently presented a larger spending plan before the Joint Finance and Bond Bill committees, saying that Markell “did not account for the critical needs of the judiciary.”

"When not one of the courts' budget requests was included in the Governor's recommended budget, it makes the Bar, litigants and industries dependent on our courts question whether the judiciary's crucial role in the state is genuinely valued, or if the laudatory comments made about our judiciary is mere lip service," Strine said.

On the operations side, the governor increased their budget slightly by 0.07 percent, as opposed to about a 2.4 percent growth across all state agencies. Strine also called the Family Court facilities in Kent and Sussex Counties “woefully inadequate.”

Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover) sits on both JFC and Bond Bill and says he agrees with Strine.

“The fact is, he’s right: the facilities are woefully inadequate, and to a certain extend, they’re actually dangerous because we’re mixing, in some cases, defendants with victims, witnesses with defendants, etc.”

The chief justice wants $1 million from the general fund to help buy land and fund the design phase, with $5 million coming from special judicial funds.

Typically, those going before the two budget committees don't stray from Markell's proposed spending plan, but Bushweller notes that's because most are part of the executive branch and act as "team players".

He says he's not surprised Strine came with his own set of priorities.

“The separately elected [or appointed] officials in non-executive branch agencies don’t feel that same necessity and so they’ll come in with their own proposals. It’s all of it that we have to consider,” Bushweller said.

Strine also called for $3.1 million for three new law clerks, to upgrade and replace IT infrastructure and give a nearly $1,700 annual parking subsidy to New Castle County Courthouse workers.

Markell appointed Strine to take the helm of Delaware's highest court from former Chief Justice Myron T. Steele early in 2014 and was sworn in last February.

Bushweller says it’s too early to say whether or not Strine’s request will pan out, noting final budget edits will take place later in May.

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