Indiana courts close, which could slow judicial process

By Elizabeth Donatelli - bio | email

CHARLESTOWN, IN (WAVE) - Big changes are coming to some courthouses across Indiana. Some will be shutting their doors forever by this time next year to save money.

There are city and town courts across Indiana where people elect the judges to deal with misdemeanors, but they don't have to be an attorney.

In Clark County there are four of these courts, which are closing, but it could cost people more time and more gas to get there.

"Misdemeanors such as DUI and failure to appear and so-forth," Judge George Waters of the Charlestown City Court said are the cases he dealt with.

In his 23 years on the bench Waters has heard thousands of cases.

"It's a pretty awesome thing to send somebody to jail," said Waters. "It's a hard feeling."

The Charlestown City Court was founded in 1959 as a community court that's easy access.

"The main benefit is they don't have to go to Jeff (Jeffersonville) for their hearing," said Waters.

At the end of next year it's closing for good, which Waters ended up supporting.

"I told them if they could save enough money, it would pay them to close the court down because the state's going to shut them down anyhow," said Waters.

The Indiana Judicial Conference's long-term plan recommends closing the 75 city and town courts and incorporating them into trial courts across the state to save money.

Clark County has four municipal courts. Sellersburg and Charlestown are closing at the end of 2011. Together they handled more than 600 cases in 2009. That means the remaining two courts in Jeffersonville and Clarksville as well as Clark County will pick-up the caseloads without hiring more staff.

"One of the biggest complaints I hear about the criminal justice system even these type of cases, which are the misdemeanor only jurisdiction, is the delay involved," said Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Stewart. "This is going to add to that delay."

The president of the Jeffersonville City Council Nathan Samuels tells WAVE 3 the council discussed it last year, but has no plans to close its court. The Jeffersonville City Court handled 1,511 cases last year. Its Judge, Ken Pierce, argued it's actually a cost saver.

"The cost per case in the municipal courts is far cheaper because we're able to keep our docket running more smoothly because we don't have the added responsibility of addressing civil cases and of felony cases," said Pierce.

As for the Clarksville Town Court, Gregory Isgrigg, president of the Town Council, said it is on the agenda for Monday, but he had not further comment. The Clarksville court handles about 1,200 cases every year.

Copyright 2010 WAVE News. All rights reserved.