Douglas County's chief district judge has asked the Kansas Supreme Court to budget for a magistrate judge in Lawrence to help eventually take the place of the county-funded judge pro tem that has been used for several years.
Meanwhile, the county has agreed to fund the judge pro tem position for 2009, and the selection process for a new one will mirror the process for appointing new district judges.
"It's a very powerful and important position, and if it makes sense for us to have a review process for district judges that features transparency and sunshine, then the same makes sense for the judge pro tem position," County Commissioner Charles Jones said.
The judge pro tem can handle criminal first appearances and traffic and small claims cases. Attorneys have been either volunteering or receiving a small stipend to cover some duties since Peggy Kittel, who had the position, was appointed to be a district judge in April.
A local nominating committee will be made up of three district judges, two people appointed by the county commissioners and one lawyer picked by Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild. The commission will interview applicants and send two or three names to Fairchild, who will make the selection.
"I think it makes sure the person selected has a well-rounded view of the county itself and the needs of the community," Fairchild said.
The process is similar for selecting district judges, except the governor makes the appointment among the finalists.
Since Kittel was moved up to district judge, Fairchild said the six judges have split up handling first appearances. In all, the extra duties are cutting into their normal docket work, he said.
County commissioners implemented cuts to departments and social service agencies, mostly because of flat property tax valuations. But commissioners decided to fund the pro tem position for next year if Fairchild seeks state funding for the future.
"They feel, and rightly so, that this position should be a state-funded position," Fairchild said.
The pro tem position costs about $75,000, including support services. The salary for a magistrate judge is about $62,000.
The Legislature would need to allocate funding even if the Supreme Court includes it in its judicial budget.
The deadline for judge pro tem applicants was last week, and at least seven people applied, Fairchild said. He hopes to nail down the nominating committee soon so interviews can begin.