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New study: State needs 17 more judicial officers

September 23, 2016

The biggest assessment of Indiana trial court caseloads and resources ever conducted reveals state trial courts need 17 more judges, magistrates and judicial officers than currently allocated.

A study conducted for the Indiana judiciary by the National Center for State Courts surveyed judges and judicial officers in every county of the state who tracked the time they spent on cases last October. The report assigned weight to the case types based on time required and complexity.

“Application of the case weights to calendar year 2015 filings results in the need for a total of 467.97 judicial officer full-time equivalents,” the report says. “As of August 31, 2015, Indiana has 450.92 judicial officer FTEs, which results in a need for 16.98 additional judicial officer FTEs.”

The greatest needs among the state’s largest counties are in Vanderburgh, where six more judicial officers are needed to in addition to the 14 current officers; Allen County, which needs 4.6 judicial officers in addition to its 23; Marion County, which needs four more in addition to its 78; and Tippecanoe, which could use another 2.6 judicial officers in addition to its current level of about 8.8 full-time equivalent jurists.

The state’s most overworked circuit based on caseload and judicial allocation remains Clark County in southern Indiana. The report documents a need for a little more than 10 judicial officers, but the county has just seven. The county could get some relief, however. A legislative panel Thursday recommended the General Assembly approve an additional magistrate for Clark as well as Shelby County, which ranks 11th in terms of judicial officer need, according to the study.

Courts where judges and judicial officers have the 10 heaviest caseload allocations, according to the study, are as follows: Clark, Vanderburgh, Spencer, Scott, Howard, Tippecanoe, Kosciusko, Jefferson, Knox and Bartholomew.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Administrative Officer Mary Willis presented the report Thursday to the legislative Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary. The report says more than 99 percent of judges, magistrates, commissioners and referees in trial courts around the state participated. “This is the largest study we have ever done,” she told the panel.

Along with jurists reporting their time use during the month of October 2015, the study also surveyed judicial officers about whether they have adequate time to handle various case types.

The survey found judicial officers on average reported they have insufficient time to deal with several case types, mostly involving children. They said they lack sufficient time to deal with child in need of services cases, termination of parental rights cases, and domestic relations cases where children are involved.  Jurists also said they lack the necessary time for problem-solving court matters, and, while these cases are rare, lack sufficient time for death penalty and life without parole trials.

Read more about the report findings in the Oct. 5 Indiana Lawyer.
  

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