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Archive for Tuesday, April 29, 2008

State, not county, should fund judge post, leaders say

April 29, 2008

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Douglas County may be one judge short

County Commissioners are reluctant to keep paying for the district court's judge pro-tem position. Enlarge video

The Douglas County Commission wants the district court to present a better case for the county to continue funding the judge pro tem position.

During their Monday meeting, commissioners reiterated it's not county residents' job to pay for judges.

"The state ought to be doing it, not us," Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said.

Commissioner Charles Jones said he wants the court to find a way to review its efficiency at handling caseloads.

"I just want to have a sense of heartfelt commitment that you are aggressively taking a look," Jones told Administrative Judge Robert Fairchild.

Earlier this month Fairchild asked commissioners to continue the funding, saying the need for a judge pro tem has not lessened. The county has been funding that position for several years because of the increased caseload and lack of funding from the Legislature. Peggy Kittel, who had held the position, recently was appointed a district judge. Commissioners said they were reluctant to continue the funding because of the county's tight financial situation. The position costs about $75,000 a year.

The pro tem judge handles criminal first appearances, traffic and small claims cases, among others. Until the position is filled, other judges are handling the duties. Fairchild said he had to delay a jury trial last week for four hours because of pro tem work.

State statistics showed Douglas County judges averaged a total caseload in 2007 of 2,203. The state average is 2,046. But commissioners weren't convinced local judges were handling more cases than other more populous counties.

"If you come back with a clearly articulated strategy for improving the court's efficiency then I'll support the position," Jones said.

Commissioner Jere McElhaney said he favored meeting with local legislators and a Kansas Supreme Court justice to push for state funding of the pro tem position.

In another matter, commissioners said they supported arranging a 99-year lease agreement with Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association for land the county owns east of the United Way building, 2518 Ridge Court. The lease would be for a "nominal fee" per year. VNA wants to build a 12-bed hospice house on the land. VNA wanted the county to donate the land but Executive Director Judy Bellome said the organization was willing to work out a lease.

Comments

Baille 6 years, 7 months ago

The district needs that pro tem position funded. Bob Johnson should get off his butt and lobby the OJA for funding the posistion, but talk of eliminating it is crazy.

javamonster 6 years, 7 months ago

What is not mentioned is the hundreds of cases that pro tem hears every month on juvenile cases alone. That position is needed for juvenile cases and it shouldn't matter who funds it, there is a need in our county for a pro tem or strictly juvenile judge. Congratulations to Judge Kittel, but her absence will be felt.

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