Senate committee supports new judicial resources, municipal court admin fees

Efforts to add judicial resources to several Indiana counties are continuing, with a Senate committee endorsing legislation that would benefit courts in Decatur, Hamilton, Hancock, Huntington, Knox and Lake counties. Meanwhile, a related measure that would let city and town courts keep certain administrative fees is also advancing.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed Senate Bill 380. That legislation would allow for the creation of a new superior court in Hamilton County and the appointment of a magistrate in Decatur, Hancock, Huntington and Knox counties, as well as a magistrate dedicated to Lake Superior Court Division 4.

Judges Matthew Bailey and Timothy Day traveled from Decatur County to testify before the Senate committee. Day noted that the Greensburg courts have topped Indiana’s severity of judicial need list for the last two years. The county has two judges — Day in the Circuit Court and Bailey in the Superior Court — but needs 3.01, according to the Indiana Supreme Court’s 2019 Severity of Need report.

Decatur County officials have committed to hiring a court reporter for a magistrate and to remodeling the local law library into a third courtroom, Day said. If the Legislature approves the request, the county also plans to start a drug court, he said.

Representatives from Hamilton, Hancock and Huntington counties previously testified on similar legislation before the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, which earlier this month advanced House Bills 1042, 1064 and 1043, respectively. Decatur County’s magistrate request was included in HB 1043. Each of those bills will next be heard in the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

Like the other counties seeking judicial resources, representatives from Knox and Lake counties testified in the fall before the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary, which approved each county’s request in October.

Also included in SB 380 is a provision allowing the clerk of a city or town court or the judge of a municipal court that does not have a clerk to retain up to $3 in administrative fee overpayments. Current law allows only circuit courts to keep $3 of an excess payment.

According to Franklin City Court Judge Mark Loyd – who is also a senior judge and former judge of the Johnson Circuit Court – this provision of SB 380 deals with “remedial overpayments.”

When a litigant overpays their administrative fees, the clerk of the court must send out a refund, Loyd said, no matter how small. He recalled one instance where a check for 8 cents was mailed to a litigant.

Often, those checks come back, Loyd continued, and the court has to determine what to do with the money. SB 380 would enable city and town courts to keep any excess funds up to $3, as circuit courts can already do.

Campbell Ricci, policy director for the Association of Indiana Municipalities, or AIM, also offered support for SB 380, saying it would save municipal courts the “unnecessary costs” of mailing out “menial payments.”

SB 380, authored by Republican Sen. Eric Koch of Bedford, will now be recommitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee. At IL deadline, the Appropriations hearing on the bill had not been scheduled.

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