(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series on the Kosciusko County Courts.)
KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — Indiana Office of Court Services provides a report each year on actions of trial courts throughout the state. This report has shown a need for more judicial officers in Kosciusko County. This need was brought before the Indiana Interim Study Committee on the Courts and the Judiciary in October. That request was met with unanimous approval.
But is the need still there?
Kosciusko Circuit Court Judge Michael Reed noted figures already submitted to the office of court services shows criminal filings were up 20 percent by the third quarter. He stated the case load for Judge David Cates in Kosciusko Superior Court 1, was at 1.81 (judges needed) in 2016. Due to the number of juvenile and CHIN cases, which take a lot of time, it’s expected his case load will jump to more than 2 this year. “He’s doing the job, theoretically of two people,” Reed said.
“I estimated, based on the first two-thirds of the year, through August, if I extrapolate the numbers, I will run at 1.5, David over 2.07; Torrey (Bauer, Superior Court 2) at 1, Joe (Sutton, Superior Court 3) at 1.1. That’s 5.67. Theoretically four judges doing the job of 5 1/2 guys, if you allocate (the time) that they suggest.”
Reed noted because of the spare courtroom, added when the Justice Building was remodeled in 2001, the local judges opted for the a new court instead of a magistrate. Magistrates are known to have the powers of an administrator and most handle minor offenses such as petty theft, small crimes and traffic violations.
Would there be a fiscal impact to the county? It would be minimal. Reed stated a judge’s salary and benefits are paid by the state, as a judge is a state employee, not a county employee. The county does provides judges a $5,000 supplement. Expenses for a new court would include a court staff and office expenses. Reed addressed the fiscal impact to the county in a letter Nov. 17, 2016, to Dan Hampton, prosecuting attorney.
That letter noted the availability of the spare courtroom along with offices for a judge, court reporter and support staff. Those rooms are fully equipped and functioning, and used on occasion for special court proceedings or when a special judge is present.
It is anticipated $10,000 would be needed to purchase additional furniture and/or equipment. It is also anticipated $9,000 would be needed to equip the new court with work stations, computer equipment, dictating equipment and so forth. The expected expense of hiring a court reporter and court administrator would be a total of $122,950 per year, including insurance and fringe benefits.
The county’s judicial system received the support of the county bar association Oct. 4, and the support of the Kosciusko County Council Sept. 14. These support documents and letters to both the county commissioners and council were presented to the study committee Oct. 5.
Reed stated it will be January before a bill can be introduced, along with the requests from five other counties. He will be appearing before the legislation to present the request. He stated a new court may not be granted, but a magistrate appointed instead. This would be due to financial reasons. “They get paid less by the state,” he said.
If a new court, or magistrate, be approved, it may not become a reality until 2019. That judge or magistrate would be appointed by the governor for a set term. It will then become an elected position every two years.