With the last cuts in the court budgets by the County Council, each court will lose one-half (1/2) of its court reporting staff for the balance of 2008. Funds for public defenders will be exhausted by the end of September. There are two possible contingency plans.
Contingency Plan #1
Remain a full-service court and hope for the best
Continue to operate with a full staff knowing that by November the appropriated funds for the court staff will be nearly exhausted. If the Indiana Supreme Court has not approved the courts’ request for additional funds by November, both courts will close except for initial hearings in felony cases and emergency matters, perhaps sharing one part-time court reporter. When the funds for public defenders are gone, the cases of defendants entitled to a public defender will be continued to 2009, when hopefully funds will be available. The funds needed in 2009 will obviously have to include funds for those 2008 cases that were not resolved because the courts could not provide a public defender. The hope is that the mandate action will be completed before the courts have to shut down and additional funds are provided.
Contingency Plan #2
Immediately Reduce Courts Services by One-Half
1. The number of hearings scheduled will be reduced by one-half. Criminal cases will be given priority.
2. A morning will be set aside for small claims once a month and the number of cases scheduled for that morning will be capped. Small claims are currently scheduled three or four mornings per month.
3. Jury trials will be limited to no more than two a month. Criminal cases will be given priority. Defendants now know that if a resolution of their case is not reached promptly they will face a jury trial within a few weeks. If defendants believe delays may result in the dismissal of their case, the number of cases now routinely resolved without trial will become smaller.
4. Two days will be set aside without hearings at the end of each quarter for preparation of the quarterly report.
5. During the four weeks of the remaining full-time court reporter's vacation, only emergency hearings will be scheduled. The judge will attempt to schedule his vacation time to coincide with that of the court reporter.
6. One morning per month will be reserved for child support cases with a cap on the number of cases scheduled.
7. If funds for public defenders and indigent counsel are reduced, counsel will be provided in the more serious cases. Less serious cases will be delayed until funds are available. If a defendant is not brought to trial within the time required by Criminal Rule 4, the case will have to be dismissed.
8. No hearings will be set on the Friday following a Thursday night court session so that the orders from the night court can be written, signed, placed in the order book and mailed to the parties in a timely manner.
9. File a mandate action, request an expedited trial and hope for a quick resolution so the courts can resume full-time status.
Deciding which contigency plan to use will not be easy, but unless the county council reconsiders, it will have to be made quickly.