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Circuit Court Clerk's Budget Hit Hard
by Ashley Murphy

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller was present at the Finance Committee meeting held Wednesday to seek more funding for Jury and Witness Fees in her budget. The significant increase in spending was due in part to the trials of the defendants of the Valentine's Day murders.

There are three defendants in this particular case, and all were originally scheduled to have the same trial, which would have resulted in Miller's office remaining inside their planned budget. However, due to legalities and changes made by the District Attorney's office to how each defendant would be tried, the cases were then scheduled separately. This made three high priority trials in one budget year, resulting in increased spending.

The first of the trials for Maurice Johnson called for a sequestered jury, due to the defendant facing the death penalty. This means that the jury had to be completely secluded for the duration of the trial. These jurors are paid more per day than a non-sequestered jury and there were 15 jurors for this specific trial. Each juror then had to be housed, fed and transported to and from the courtroom each day of the trial. Witnesses were also brought in for the trial, resulting in more traveling fees.

The grand total of trial one for the Valentine's Day murders exceeded $24,000.

Twanna Blair is the second defendant to have been tried. Blair's trial, however, called for a non-sequestered jury of 14 jurors and the cost was excessively lower. Blair was also facing the death penalty, but it was dropped. The same witnesses had to be transported back in for the trial, resulting in more traveling fees. Total expenses for this trial were a little over $5,000.

The third and final trial is to be held in February for Mike Younger. Younger's trial will also call for him to face the death penalty. Once again, a sequestered jury will be called in and the same witnesses will need to be brought back to the courtroom. Meaning, excessive spending as in the case of Maurice Johnson.

These three high priority cases on top of any other everyday county issues will need to be covered. Miller asked the Finance Committee for $55,000 from the General Fund to finish out the remainder of the budget year. Miller also stated that any unused funds would be returned to the General Fund before next budget year. Understanding the issues brought before them, the Finance Committee unanimously approved this budget amendment.