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We must never do this again

Oregon editors say

The shutdown of the courts showed how critical the justice system is

The Oregonian

The shuttering of courthouses one day a week to save money was a costly civics lesson in the central role the silent branch of government, the judiciary, plays in Oregon's quality of life.

The reduced court schedule formally ended July — with the start of the new two-year state budget. However, the effects of the shutdown of courts on Fridays for more than four months will be felt in Oregon for months, if not longer.

Justice has been delayed, and likely denied, to countless criminals and their victims. Courts face backlogs of more than 20,000 cases, and many never will be resolved because accused criminals have fled the state and won't show up for court hearings. Property crimes such as car theft, bad-check passing and burglary soared after voters rejected Measure 28, triggering the Friday court closures. Criminals wise to the court backlogs and lack of money for public defenders laughed at the efforts of police to arrest them for property crimes.

A sour joke went around about a new Miranda warning, used only in Oregon: You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, you are now free to go.

— The experience of the past few months also was a hard lesson for small businesses, which had no protection from people passing bad checks. The plain truth is that fully funded, fully operational courts are crucial to the quality of life in Oregon. If that seems obvious now, it was not back in January, when Oregonians voted against Measure 28, an income-tax surcharge that would have kept open the state's courts and schools, and preserved human services.

The lawmakers who opposed Measure 28, and, like Rep. Dan Doyle, R-Salem, deliberately sabotaged it by claiming to have a secret plan to fund courts and other services if it failed, damaged the judicial system and left Oregonians especially vulnerable to a wave of property crime.

It will take months for courts to work through the backlog of criminal and civil cases and repair this damage. It will take much longer to restore the public's former confidence in this state's justice system. As this experiment with part-time justice ends, one thing is certain: Oregon must never do this again.