- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court said more needs to be done to make state legal services affordable and accessible.

Chief Justice Matthew Durrant told state legislators during the annual State of the Judiciary Address Monday that Utah faces a “crisis” in legal services, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

There is an enormous gap between low- and middle-income residents and the help they need to address common legal problems, Durrant said.

“People simply can’t afford a lawyer,” Durrant said.

Durrant asked the lawmakers who convened on the first day of the 2020 legislative session to increase judicial branch funding by about $1.5 million.

The money would be used pay for courthouse sound system repairs, new information technology staff and additional employees to help reduce administrative backlogs, he said.

Durrant also suggested the judicial branch should be empowered to take a coordinating role in the state’s mental health and drug treatment efforts.

Jails and prisons have become “de facto mental institutions,” a situation that creates challenges for the court system and the state as a whole, he said.

Durrant’s spoke of his experience with the state’s drug court programs, which provide a treatment-based alternative to incarceration for some offenders.

While some drug court participants commit additional crimes, many are permanently changed by the experience, Durrant said.

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