Douglas County’s chief judge says he will likely have to go back county commissioners to request funding for a judge pro tem in 2010.
In its budget recommendation, the Kansas Supreme Court had included the county’s request for a magistrate judge to help handle the county’s caseload. But the state’s fiscal crisis, including an expected $1 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2010, makes it unlikely legislators will fund the position, Chief Judge Robert Fairchild told county commissioners Monday.
“It’s my understanding from talking to them that there is absolutely no chance that any of the new (judicial) positions will be funded by the Legislature, and they are just hoping not to lose any more positions,” Fairchild said. “So the reality is that in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court believed we needed it, and we believed we needed it, I don’t think it’s going to happen right away.”
A judge pro tem can handle criminal first appearances and traffic and small claims cases. The pro tem position costs about $75,000, including support services. The salary for a magistrate judge is about $62,000, without support services.
Jim George currently serves as the county’s judge pro tem.
The county commission had agreed to fund the pro tem position through the end of the year. Fairchild said he would ask for funding again for next year — or find a way through cuts to continue to keep the position.
The county is also experiencing revenue shortfalls, and administrators are preparing commissioners for a tough budget session in the summer.
“We’re going to do everything we can to avoid eliminating the pro tem position. Frankly we just couldn’t function without it,” Fairchild said.