“You’re looking at 45 different circuits within the state,” Smith says, “and over time we just add additional circuits. As everyone knows, the population has shifted greatly. The average weighted caseload has shifted dramatically and a lot of times we have to transport judges from circuit-to-circuit.” He is looking for ways to more efficiently use the judges in the state.
Under the Constitution the addition, subtraction or redrawing of circuits is up to the legislature, as is the number of circuit and associate circuit judges. There is no criteria in statute for what makes up a circuit. Smith says it has been over 40 years since the state’s circuits, as a whole, have been reorganized.
Smith says the changes could save the state money. “If you look at some of the circuits … judges may drive two-and-a-half hours just to get to one courthouse from the other … whenever there’s a closer judge within 20 to 25 minutes, and I think that’s something we need to look at.”
He says even if circuits become larger he wants them to remain compact based on the milage from courthouse-to-courthouse.
Maximizing efficiency could include looking at the other positions in each circuit. That might include expanding the powers of, or areas served by, associate judges. “By the Constitution, every (county) has an associate judge. You look at some counties where the population is not nearly as great as others, so there’s a lot of extra time for these associate judges and it would be great if we could utilize their services throughout the circuits that they’re a part of.” Another idea is to give drug, family law and juvenile court commissioners the same status as associate judges. Smith notes the pay for associate judges and those commissioners is already equal.
Smith does not plan on meeting until he has a bill ready or until other legislation is assigned to the Committee. In either case, Smith says, “The sooner the better.”
AUDIO: Mike Lear reports – 58 second mp3