Topeka — A new study is getting under way to determine how much time and effort the Kansas court system is spending to hear and process cases.
The study being conducted by the Kansas Judicial Study Advisory Committee is expected to take one to two years before being sent to the Kansas Supreme Court for consideration.
Caseloads and the courts were last reviewed at this level in 1974 and resulted in changes including unification of the state court system in 1977. In the new study, caseloads will be examined by the raw numbers and "weight," meaning a case's complexity and the driving time needed to handle cases in the state's rural areas.
Court spokesman Ron Keefover told the Topeka Capital-Journal he wasn't sure if the new study would result in more changes. But he said that together with an examination of future electronic filing of cases, the study could have far-reaching implications.
"It is the first time that anyone has tried to do a weighted study of caseloads in Kansas," Keefover said. "They really want to do it right."
The study will cost $200,000 and be financed by savings from vacancies within the court system, Keefover said. About $100,000 will come from the opening for the state law library's post.
The first meeting of committees and the National Center for State Courts, which will recommend judicial and court staffing statewide, might occur this fall.
Two committees of 14 members each, one made up of judges and the other of court administrators, clerks of the courts and a court reporter-administrative assistant, were appointed by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Shawnee County District Court Judge Cheryl Kingfisher realizes Shawnee County courts need more judges, but the study has a target larger than Shawnee County.
"The study will identify the needs for the state," said Kingfisher, who is on the judicial needs assessment committee.
The courts in Shawnee County see several complicated cases each year because it is where cases filed against state government originate. Chief Judge Nancy Parrish said she is "fully supportive of the weighted case load study," adding that a traffic case doesn't have the same time requirements as a complex civil or criminal case.
She also said the study may help determine if legislators should consider repealing the requirement for each county to have at least on judge.
A Shawnee County District Court judge handles an average of 2,392 cases while the next three highest districts were Sedgwick County 2,193 per judge, Johnson County 2,133 per and Wyandotte County 1,662 per judge, according to a Legislative Post Audit report issued in January.
"There are days that we really feel very short of judges and staff, but we understand these are tough times," Parrish said last week, "and our wish list might not be granted."
Kansas has approximately 266 judge positions and 1,589 nonjudicial positions authorized for the Kansas state courts. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, Kansas state courts handled 517,968 cases, including 177,029 traffic cases.