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Putnam County Judges ask commissioners for Court Referee

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Putnam County Commissioners gave their approval to a request by Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges and Circuit Court Judge Matt Headley for the creation of a court referee.

They will go before the County Council Tuesday evening for fiscal approval.

A court referee is a licensed attorney in the state of Indiana who works under the authority of the judges and presides over cases assigned by them.

"We see the referee hearing child support, small claims, some misdemeanor, some juvenile cases as well as some dissolution of marriage actions," said the letter presented to the commissioners.

The two judges believe now is a good time to move forward with their request. They quote an increase in the total number of cases filed in Putnam County since 1978 to be 210 percent.

There were just two judges in 1978, and they heard 10,228 cases.

They cite increases in other county offices affecting the court system since 1978. The prosecuting attorney had two part-time prosecutors and two part-time secretaries in 1978. As of 2008 there were four prosecutors (three being full-time), four full-time secretaries, a victim's assistant coordinator and an investigator.

The sheriff's department increased from one, sheriff, one to two deputies, two to three jail employees and one office person to 17 deputy sheriffs, 13 full-time jail employees, 33 part-time ail employees and five office staff in 2008.

Bridges and Headley also pointed out the difference in other counties with populations from 21,542 to 39,902 (Putnam has 37,251) and the number of judges. Only one other county, Gibson with a population of 33,396, has only two judges.

Huntington with 38,026 in population has two judges, one referee and one town court. Knox County with 38,241 in population has three judges and one town court.

Even Wabash County with only a population of 33,559 has two judges and two town courts.

The judges' information went on to explain the weighting system of the Indiana Supreme court. When applying this weight to Putnam County courts the two courts are having cases filed that should require over three courts to hear them.

In fact, of the 92 counties within the state, only six counties have an aggregate average higher than Putnam.

There was concern also with the changes in the public defender's office and the impact it will have on the court system.

"It's going to create problems maybe as soon as November," Headley said. "There will be massive confusion on the third floor."

Request for proposals for new public defenders (who will not have offices in the courthouse) have been mailed. So far, no responses have come in.

The judges believe they can hire a hearing office for about $75,000 a year plus county benefits. This is what the Boone County Referee receives.

Support staff would come from one of the courts -- probably the Circuit Court -- so no additional staffing requirements would be necessary.

Office supplies, computers and other items will be taken from the public defender's office to save on start-up costs.

"Since the referee will heard a large percent of Title IV-D cases, the federal government will reimburse 66 percent of monies expended," said Bridges.

A one-time amount in the Children's and Families fund of $1.2 million is available. The judges want approval to fund the position over the 2009-10 years.

The judges hope that after 2010 they will have the gears in motion to make this position a magistrate, which is a state-paid position. At that point, the person could hear additional types of cases that a referee cannot.

Space would be available with the changes in the public defender system.

"The current structure is mostly in place," said Bridges.

Commissioners gave their approval and the judges will now go before the county council for funding approval.

In other business, commissioners approved contracts for the health department and Putnam County Hospital regarding providing H1N1 vaccinations at no cost; a contract for Cinergy MetroNet for a portion of the new telephone system for the courthouse; a contract for borings on Bridge 10 and acknowledged that the Barnard Road Bridge number 248 will be widened with government funding since it has been declared a historic bridge. It will be widened on each side.

"That's the only bridge that didn't wash out in 1957 on Big Walnut," said Gene Beck. It is a cement arch bridge built in 1926.

Commissioners also discussed the Crowe's bridge being declared historic by the national keeper.

The Putnam County Museum received approval to get most of the items they requested from the County Home.

Commissioners also refused a request by the Hoosier State Paranormal to investigate the County Home.

County Attorney Scott Hoff recommended they not approve the request based on the county's insurance company "preferring" they did not.

"Things are already disappearing out there now. I would prefer that we not do it," Hoff told commissioners.

County Planner Kim Hyten said he had a complete inventory of all items from the county home, and that nothing was missing. A pink glass lamp requested by the Putnam County Museum -- one of the items in question -- was a personal effect taken by a family member from someone who had lived at the home, Hyten said.

Commissioners acquiesced.

Putnam County Commissioners meet on the first and third Monday of every month at the Putnam County Annex.

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The sheriff dept now holds doc inmates and about 78 inmates more than they used too. its not 1950...lol

-- Posted by cvilleguy on Tue, Oct 20, 2009, at 10:17 AM

I am glad to see that the county's attorney is being allowed to call HSP thieves. Does he have evidence to prove that these people are thieves? I am sure the local ambulance service would not employ a bunch of thieves. Once they auction off all of the items that were in there, the place should be empty and nothing left to take. I do not see a problem with this and I think they should let HSP do their thing in there.

-- Posted by Palimino on Wed, Oct 21, 2009, at 7:29 PM

How can the Judges, justify getting a court referee when people in the courthouse are losing their jobs or getting their hours cut in half? We've heard that in 2010, by the county counsel, that all departments will be asked to cut 1 of their staff. How can we add a court referee at $75.000. a year, with people losing their jobs? If that money is out there somewhere, it needs to be used to save the peoples jobs that already exist, first. Just trying to put things in prospective.

-- Posted by ladycubs on Mon, Oct 26, 2009, at 6:29 AM

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