Archive for Saturday, November 29, 2003

Plan eases judicial moves

November 29, 2003


— Faced with legislators' reluctance to approve the budget increases sought by the court system, a study committee has drafted a proposal designed to make it easier to move judges from county to county.

However, a spokesman for the judicial branch questioned Friday whether the plan would help save the court system much money.

The Special Committee on Judiciary's proposal modifies residency requirements for judges. The panel drafted it this week and agreed to forward the measure to the 2004 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 12.

"It allows a more efficient use of judicial resources," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, the panel's chairman.

For the past decade, the Kansas Supreme Court, which administers the district and appellate courts, has voiced frustration over tight budgets.

Most of those years, the Supreme Court has imposed hiring delays to save money, and in 2002, the court bypassed the Legislature to impose emergency surcharges on docket fees, increasing the cost of a marriage license by $25, to $75.

This year, the Supreme Court said the judicial branch needed nearly $98.6 million to operate, but the Legislature appropriated $95.3 million under the current budget.

Under the study committee's proposal, the Supreme Court could reassign judges in counties with more than one judge if the number of nontraffic cases dropped below 600 in a given year. The judge to be moved would not have to be a resident of his or her new county or judicial district.

The state's 105 counties are divided into 31 judicial districts. A district judge must be a resident only of a judicial district, but a magistrate must be a resident of the county in which he or she serves.

Ron Keefover, spokesman for the judicial branch, said the residency requirements had made it difficult to move judges on occasion. But he said the change wasn't likely to save much money, because relatively few judges could be moved.

Fifty-four counties have only one magistrate judge. Another 12 have only a single district judge.

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