‘Master magistrate bill’ approved by senate committee

March 11, 2015

While the Senate Judiciary Committee moved a bill forward Wednesday that would provide additional magistrates for courts in seven counties, some members indicated a need to revisit in a future legislative session a push to require all judges, including those presiding over town and city courts, be attorneys.

The committee approved on a 9-0 vote House Bill 1110 that allows courts in Clark, Greene, Madison, Porter and Vanderburgh counties to each appoint one additional full-time magistrate. Also, the bill allows Marion County to convert four court commissioners to magistrates, continuing a process begun about five years ago.

“This has become the master magistrate bill,” said Rep. Steven Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, author of HB 1110.

He explained to the committee his initial bill covered only Clark County which tops the state’s severity of need list. The Southern Indiana county, according to the Indiana Supreme Court’s analysis, has six judicial officers doing the work of 12.4 judges. Moreover, he said, the workload increased with the closing of city courts in Charlestown, Sellersburg and, most recently, Jeffersonville.

As Stemler’s measure moved through the House Ways and Means Committee and onto the floor of the House of Representatives, it was amended and combined with other bills to include the other counties.

A fiscal analysis of HB 1110 found the annual salary and benefits for a single full-time magistrate totals $158,135. The nine proposed full-time magistrates would cost the state an estimated $1.11 million in fiscal year 2016 and $1.42 million in fiscal years 2017 through 2019.  

During the Senate committee hearing, committee member Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, offered an amendment which inserted another county into the bill. His amendment would allow St. Joseph Circuit Court to appoint three full-time magistrates.

The Zakas amendment was approved by consent.

Marion Superior Judges Timothy Oakes and Heather Welch along with Greene Superior Judge Dena Martin testified in support of HB 1110.

Madison Superior Judge Thomas Clem told the committee that filings in his county’s courts had jumped 32 percent since 2005. As in Clark County, the closure of two town courts was piling more work onto the local superior and circuit courts, he said.  

Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, queried why the town courts in Madison County could not be given the small claims docket that is currently being handled in the circuit courts.

When Clem replied that often the town court judges are not lawyers, Young was surprised.

Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, reminded the committee that in past sessions he had worked with former Chief Justice Randall Shepard to prepare a bill that would require all Indiana judges be attorneys. The bill, he said, was never given a hearing.

However, Randolph said he would welcome any support and possibly introduce similar legislation during the 2016 session of the General Assembly.  



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