House panel OKs new Howard, Vanderburgh magistrate judges

Two counties seeking funding for additional magistrate judges from the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee got their wish Wednesday when the panel advanced the legislation to the House floor.  

Additional support for magistrate judges was requested by Howard and Vanderburgh counties in House Bill 1118 and House Bill 1057, respectively, after their presentation to the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary in September 2018. Howard and Vanderburgh counties are ranked 10th and 12th, respectively, in terms of severity of need in the most recent Weighted Caseload Report.

Vanderburgh Circuit Court Judge David Kiely said although his county has a net need of 20 judicial officers to serve its courts, it currently only has 15. Kiely requested one magistrate judge in the circuit court, and Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge Wayne S. Trockman requested a magistrate judge for the superior court. 

“The reason we want another magistrate in each court is so we can do more,” Kiely said. “Right now, I think we’re hand-tied because we don’t have those judicial resources.”

Kiely added that having an additional magistrate judge could help boost efficiency and limit the number of pretrial incarcerations in Vanderburgh County. 

Similarly, Howard County Superior Court III Judge Douglas Tate suggested having the help of an additional magistrate judge would not only foster efficiency but also reduce jail populations. Howard County requested just one magistrate in House Bill 1118, but Tate said the role would prove necessary to improving judicial process.

“I think it will help us in what we’re trying to accomplish here in Howard County,” Tate said to the committee Wednesday. “Making our justice system more accessible, more efficient and also help us to reduce our jail population.”

Specifically, Tate said the goal is to have arrested individuals come before the magistrate judge as soon as possible for initial hearings.

Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann agreed, adding that the magistrate judge could help better assess the specific needs of each individual to appropriately place them, instead of automatically sending them to jail.

“The magistrate would assist in getting these people before the court saying, ‘You’re interested in mental health court, let’s get you assessed for that. Let’s get you in that program. Let’s get you put in work release or in community corrections. Let’s get you out of the jail if it’s not necessary that you’re there and put one that should be there.”

McCann said that without the additional help, increased workloads have strained the system.

“I think the magistrate would be helpful in moving these cases along, getting these offenders the treatment and assistance they need to get bed space for the people that I feel need to be in jail,” he said.

Members of the committee unanimously voted in favor of both requests 11-0, sending them to the full House.

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