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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ind. Courts - "New magistrates could speed up justice for victims in St. Joseph County"

Kelli Stopczynski had this story with video at WSBT22, South Bend, yesterday evening. Some quotes:

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY - Big changes are on the way when it comes to how long it takes for cases to move through the St. Joseph County court system. Indiana lawmakers and Governor Mike Pence recently approved 3 new magistrate judge positions for the county.

It's part of House Enrolled Act 1110, which approves additional magistrates for 7 Indiana counties.

Right now, 1 magistrate in the "1855 Courthouse" in downtown South Bend deals with roughly 200 misdemeanor cases each morning, then handles arraignments for felony and misdemeanor cases for a couple hours in the afternoon and might have time to hear a trial before the end of the day, said St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter.

Some judges and Cotter agree - adding three magistrates to the mix will ease some of that workload and efficiently move more cases through the system. * * *

According to St. Joseph Circuit Court judge Hon. Michael Gotsch, two magistrates inside the 1855 Courthouse, the county's oldest court building, handled more than 42,000 court filings in 2013.

"We knew we were going to continue to experience that increase in case load over time," Gotsch explained.

As a result the courts, county commissioners and council developed a plan five years ago, he said.

First on the list: create more courtrooms inside the former St. Joseph County jail, on the first and second floors of the County City Building in downtown South Bend. That work's been underway since 2014 and is scheduled to be finished by September, Gotsch said.

The next step: ask the state legislature for more magistrate judges, which was recently approved.

"We absolutely need this help," Gotsch added.

He will appoint one of the three magistrates to the county's protective order court - something he hopes will reduce the number of victims who file then withdraw protective order requests.

Chief Judge Hon. Jenny Manier will appoint the other two magistrates to superior court - something Cotter called a 'Godsend to the community.'

"Right now we're setting trials about 4 and 5 months in the future," he said. "With this change I think we can set it in 4 or 5 weeks."

The new law also gives more power to magistrates, who are overseen by judges. They'll be able to approve and accept criminal plea agreements, approve settlements in civil matters and approve decrees of dissolution, settlement agreements and any other agreements in domestic relations or paternity actions.

"It's helpful because, for example, right now I have to counter sign every order that the magistrates do with respect to divorces," Gotsch said. "So much of my day is spent just signing orders they've already reviewed and signed. If we're trusting them to be magistrate judges then I think that we could trust them to issue some orders."

The new law goes into effect July 1. According to a study, each new magistrate will receive around $158,000 a year in salary and benefits. That will be paid through state tax dollars and collected court fees, Gotsch said.

The ILB also wrote about HEA 1110 on May 6th, in a post headed "All new Indiana city and town judges will need to be attorneys; and more."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 13, 2015 09:49 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts