Senate OKs Putnam magistrate

Thursday, January 25, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — After Senate Bill 14 received unanimous support by the Indiana Senate on Tuesday, Putnam County is one step away from adding a third judicial officer as early as July.

By a 49-0 roll call vote on Tuesday, the bill — sponsored by District 37 Sen. Rod Bray and District 24 Sen. John Crane — made it out of the senate, along with a similar measure for Kosciusko County.

The magistrate was proposed by judges Matt Headley and Denny Bridges last fall, when they took the matter to Putnam County Commissioners and Putnam County Council for their blessings before going to the state.

The matter is, however, ultimately a state decision, as the magistrate’s salary will be drawn from state funds, just like the salaries of the two judges.

Headley and Bridges have tried to follow the progress of the bill closely, beginning with the Interim Study Committee on Court and the Judiciary, chaired by Bray, before which both judges testified last October.

Bridges told the committee the third judicial officer would help the two judges handle more “routine” matters.

With approval of the interim committee, the matter moved on to Senate Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations Committee, both of which supported the proposal.

However, Bridges admitted he didn’t even realize the matter was going before the full senate, as he learned of the affirmative vote when a pair of colleagues — one in Lake County and one in Florida — texted him joking that they’d like to apply for the position.

Bridges added that he felt Putnam County was in a good position to add the position, though, as the cost is minimal in the grand scheme of the state’s budget.

“What helps us is, the only thing the state’s going to be out is the magistrate’s salary,” Bridges said.

For now, Bridges and Headley also estimated a minimal cost for the county. A new magistrate does not mean there will be any more caseload, just a third judicial officer to expedite the process.

As such, beyond the cost of some office supplies, the judges hope to handle the work of the new court by assigning one person from each of their offices to the new office.

The matter now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Jim Baird will act as sponsor.

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