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Legislation impacting judiciary awaiting final approval

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Several bills that may alter the look of the Indiana judiciary await final approval during the waning days of the 2011 legislative session.

Senate Bill 463 removes the mandatory retirement age for trial court judges in Indiana. Current state statute calls for Superior court judges to be less than 70 years old when taking office or, in some cases, to retire by the age of 75. If SB 463 becomes law, statutory provisions requiring mandatory retirement from the bench for Superior court judges would be removed.

The bill also provides for the creation of a fourth Superior court in Johnson County. The judge presiding over this court would be elected during the November 2014 general election, with the court beginning operation in January 2015.

SB 463 gained approval of both the Senate and House of Representatives, and it has been returned to the Senate for concurrence with House amendments. The Senate dissented from the House amendments, so the legislation went in to conference committee Tuesday.

House Bill 1266 has also been approved by both legislative chambers, and it awaits concurrence by House members of amendments made in the Senate.

HB 1266 establishes unified Circuit courts in Clark, Madison, and Henry counties. Following the merger of the Circuit and Superior courts in those counties, the unified Circuit Court of Clark County would have four judges effective Jan. 1, 2012; the unified Circuit Court of Madison County would have six judges effective July 1, 2011; and the unified Circuit Court of Henry County would have three judges effective July 1, 2011.

The bill also makes changes to the method used to elect and retain Superior Court County Division judges in Lake County, moving all Superior judges in the county to the merit-selection process.

Current law provides that the four judges of the Lake Superior County Division are elected by voters every six years. HB 1266 provides that those judges be nominated by the Lake County Superior Court Judicial Nominating Commission and appointed by the governor. Judges would be subject every six years to a retention vote by the Lake County electorate, as are the other Civil and Criminal Superior judges in the county.

In addition, HB 1266 calls for all Circuit, Superior, and Probate courts to have: (1) original and concurrent jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases; (2) de novo appellate jurisdiction of appeals from city and town courts; and (3) in Marion County, de novo appellate jurisdiction of appeals from township small claims courts. It also prolongs the expiration date of the Indiana Commission on Courts to June 30, 2015.

While it appeared that the automated record-keeping fee that is used to fund Indiana’s statewide case management system was going to be cut this year rather than increased as initially requested in legislation supported by the state’s Judicial Technology and Automation Committee, a provision to keep the status quo has been inserted into the proposed state budget.

The proposed budget calls for the fee to remain at the current level of $7 for another two years, then decrease to $4 after June 30, 2013. Without legislative action this year, the fee would expire July 1. The proposed budget also calls for the public defense administration fee to be increased from $3 to $5 effective July 1.
 

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