If I were the judge I'd look depressed, too.
Our story published in today’s Times-News “Allred trial cost $17,000,” is the kind of report the people directly involved don’t like very much — but readers in the main love. Thanks to our reporter Michael Abernethy for doing a stellar job on it.
We decided to look inside the cost of the appeal trial of former state lawmaker Cary Allred pretty early in the weeklong court process. Readers online, by telephone, social media and those we encountered on the streets all wondered what the cost to taxpayers would ultimately be of the jury trial on Allred’s June 29, 2010 driving while impaired charges. He had already been found guilty in Alamance County District Court in November by a judge brought in from out of the area to hear this case specifically.
What Michael uncovered was not only a figure for taking this case another step up the appeals process — something Allred is well within his rights to do, and should if he feels he’s innocent — but a financial tour inside a government system. Fascinating stuff and enlightening. That’s part of the process those involved don’t care much for — the revelation of public salaries.
Our story gave readers not only the lowdown on what it costs to operate during this particular trial, in which Allred was found guilty a second time, but any trial for the most part. Broken down, readers can see how salaries fit into the overall county, city and state budget pictures. It costs a lot to provide functions citizens pretty much take for granted. And our story didn’t even factor in the hours prosecutors spent preparing the case before it went to court.
Some of the salaries are making readers take notice, if online and social media comments are any indication. Some wonder, for example, whether a judge is worth $146,000 annually. In my experience, you get what you pay for. And a judge who’s doing his or her work correctly is spending far more hours on the job than merely hearing the case in court.
The story is timely in another regard. As elected officials on all levels are now making critical budget decisions in a time of economic malaise, readers can see what they’re up against. What services can be cut? Can employees be furloughed and the system still function? Are salary cuts possible?
As always, budget decisions are tough. Residents always want to eliminate or cut back what they’d don’t personally care about. But if say, the soccer fields at a local park aren’t mowed to perfection, they wonder why. If court cases get bogged down because of a shortage of judges, they want more judges. And if school test scores start to tumble down, they demand a reversal.
It’s not always as easy as it looks.