- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Technological improvements in Wyoming’s court system continue but still have a ways to go amid looming budget constraints, Wyoming Chief Justice James Burke said Monday.

New technology in Wyoming courtrooms includes video displays for jurors to get a close look at evidence. Video conferencing also is becoming more common and more court documents are going electronic, Burke said in his annual state of the judiciary address to state lawmakers.

The judicial branch wants lawmakers to approve another $300,000 for technology over the upcoming biennium. That wouldn’t meet every technological need in Wyoming’s courts but would be a good step, Burke said.

“Where the technology is in place, our judges use it,” he said.

The $73 million general fund standard budget sought for the entire judicial system - the state supreme court and all district and circuit courts - is “very lean,” he said.

Close to 90 percent, or $65.5 million, is payroll.

“Although the judicial workload has increased, and we have taken on more projects, the number of employee positions in that budget has essentially remained constant,” Burke said.

Along with the technology spending, the judicial branch also seeks $100,000 in spending authority for Equal Justice Wyoming, which helps provide legal services to low-income residents. Wyoming lawyers are offering free services in unprecedented numbers, according to Burke.

Burke also spoke in favor of a bill that would fund a fourth district court judge in Laramie County.

Low prices for oil, natural gas and coal are beginning to reduce state revenue. The problem loomed large as the Legislature convened Monday for a four-week session devoted primarily to the state budget for the next two years.

Burke compared the situation to an advancing storm that gets worse with every forecast.

“I’m pretty sure that we’re all going to get wet,” he said. “However, I’m confident that we’re also going to weather it and that you all are going to help us get through it.”

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