Statehouse bills would bulk up judiciary in 3 counties

January 24, 2017

Courts in Clark and Shelby counties are gaining support for their requests for additional judicial officers.

In September 2016, the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary recommended both counties each get one magistrate to help with heavy dockets. Subsequently two bills pertaining to the extra officers were filed in the Indiana House of Representatives and are scheduled for a hearing this week before a House committee.

House Bill 1053, authored by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, would allow Shelby Superior courts to appoint a full-time magistrate. Likewise HB 1176, authored by Steven Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, would enable Clark Circuit courts to appoint a fourth full-time magistrate.

The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee will consider both bills when it convenes at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 156-C.

Also, Kosciusko County would be able to boost its judicial roster through a bill filed in the Senate. Co-authors Randall Head, R-Logansport, and Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, have introduced SB 58 that would add a fourth judge to Kosciusko Superior Court.

The measure has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee but has not been scheduled for a hearing.

According to the 2016 Indiana Caseload Assessment Plan to Utilize Resource Efficiently report, Clark County leads the state in need for additional judicial officers. The southern Indiana county has seven judicial officers — four judges and three magistrates — but needs 10.16. Currently each court is handling about 45 percent more cases than they should under a weighted caseload standard.

Shelby County is ranked 11th in terms of need for more judicial officers. With three judges now, each court docket is 22 percent heavier that what it should be under the weighted measurement. The 2016 study found the county actually needs 3.66 judicial officers. Each magistrate would cost the state $164,644 annually in salary and benefits.

Shelby County would incur some additional expenses. The Shelby Superior Courts would use existing office space and courtrooms but the county council has plans to build a permanent place for the new magistrate. The court would then need $4,213 for one-time equipment costs and $36,000 for staff and office supplies.

In Clark County, space for the new magistrate is already available. A courtroom has been set up in the local jail from which the new magistrate will likely work.

Kosciusko County has four judges and needs 5.09, the 2016 study reported. It is handling a caseload that is 27 percent more than what the courts should be handling. The new judge would cost the state $202,314 total compensation each year.

The northern Indiana county has an extra unused courtroom that was created when the justice building was remodeled. The costs of the salaries and health insurance for the additional court administrator and court reporter are expected to reach $122,000. Also, the county is expected to need another $10,000 to purchase office furniture and equipment.


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