Rising caseloads and crowded jails are prompting five Indiana counties, to date, to request more magistrates and courts.
Howard and Vanderburgh counties are asking the Indiana Legislature for additional magistrates, while Clark County has requested two new circuit courts. Additionally, Tippecanoe and Spencer counties are set to make their own requests for more judicial help.
The counties have been presenting their needs to the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary. Judges from Clark, Howard and Vanderburgh counties appeared before the committee at the Sept. 19 meeting and talked about their courts, as well as the need for more help from the bench. For Howard County, other officials, including the prosecutor, also appeared and spoke.
Committee members asked questions regarding the present circumstances in each county and what was driving the increase in caseloads. Both Sens. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, pressed the judges on the lack of minorities on their benches. The judges responded that efforts are being made by the courts and local bar associations to encourage more minorities to join the judiciary.
At the end of each presentation, the committee unanimously approved the requests from Howard, Vanderburgh and Clark counties. When the committee reconvenes today, it will hear from Tippecanoe and Spencer counties.
During the 2017 session, the Legislature passed a bill allowing Clark Circuit courts to appoint a fourth full-time magistrate and Shelby Circuit and Superior courts to appoint a full-time magistrate. The Statehouse did not add any judges to the state court system.
According to the 2017 Weighted Caseload Report, which was presented to the interim committee at the Sept. 19 hearing, Clark County is ranked ninth among all Indiana counties in terms of severity of need for more judicial officers. The southern Indiana county has eight judges but, based on its caseload, needs 11.
Clark Circuit Judge Vicki Carmichael told the committee the workload in her county is being driven by the rise in children in need of services cases, as well as drug cases.
Howard and Vanderburgh counties are ranked 10th and 12th, respectively, in terms of severity of need in the Weighted Caseload Report. In letters to the interim committee, elected officials from those counties asserted that having an additional magistrate would help process cases faster and lower the inmate population in their local jails.
Further, Vanderburgh Superior Chief Judge Les Shively wrote to the committee that an additional magistrate would keep the “dockets under control and moving at a respectable pace.”
Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers and Board of Commissioners President Paul Wyman also told the committee a new judicial officer would keep the community from being forced to build a new jail.
“We do not believe the answer to this problem lies in spending millions of dollars constructing a larger jail facility,” Wyman wrote in a letter to the interim committee. “The most appropriate solution to this problem is to add a magistrate position.”
Clark County has long had a need for more judges, but it lacked the space for the new courtrooms. Now, the county is exploring the possibility of relocating some offices such as the auditor, treasurer and assessor to another facility, which would create more space for two courtrooms in the county government building.
If the Legislature approves the two new courts, Clark County officials say the election of the judges would take place in 2020 and the new courts would begin operating in January 2021.•