(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a four-part series on the Kosciusko County Courts.)
KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — The Indiana Constitution established circuit courts throughout the state in 1836. Kosciusko County’s first circuit court was held Oct. 31, 1836, in the home of Levi Lee. It then moved to Jacob Lozier’s home Jan. 1, 1837, until the first courthouse was built in 1839.
The county operated with one court until 1969. It was in that year a superior court was started, giving the county two courts. It remained that way until 1976 when a county court was added. The county judicial system operated with three courts until 1997.
Things changed in 1997. The county court system went to four courts, a structure it now has. Superior Court became Superior 1, county court became Superior 2, and the new court was named Superior 3. Joe Sutton was elected as Superior Court 3 judge, a position he has held for the last 20 years.
Kosciusko Circuit Court Judge Michael Reed stated all three superior courts “can have jurisdiction concurrently with circuit court.” He added every two years the county submits a case allocation plan, which is then approved by the Supreme Court on a biannual basis. “The judges (in the county) get together and determine how cases are allocated,” Reed said, adding “Superior Court 2 and 3 have somewhat limited jurisdiction.”
Those allocations are also determined by the caseload for the specific courts. He stated Superior Court 3 has small claims. “There has to be a small claims court,” Reed said.
Information on case loads in every court in the state have been filed with the Indiana Office of Court Services for more than 20 years. These quarterly reports, known as the Judicial Service Report, include everything from crucial information on court actions to interesting facts about the judicial branch including state and county operations.
Each year data per county is grouped and tracked using classification codes and cases are weighted. The weighted caseload measurement system was established for a uniform statewide method for comparing trial court caseloads. This system was originally developed in 1993-94 and updated or changed a number of times. The latest change was in 2016.
Statistics from 1998 to 2015, based on the weighted caseload measures, have shown Kosciusko County has been in need of five to six judges to handle the cases filed in the county. Only one year, 2003, did the statistics show less than five judges were needed.
“It’s been 20 years without changing anything,” Reed said. “Look at the growth of the county,” he added, noting this contributes to the growth of litigation, the drugs in the county and other factors.
“We talked about maybe going for a new court a long time ago,” said Reed. However, they knew the weighted case load measures were going to change, so they thought they would wait and see what it looked like. “They changed the way the cases are weighted based on that study (2016 study),” said Reed. The results were the same as years past and more judges were needed in Kosciusko County. “The object is a way to see who is working hard and who isn’t theoretically.”