Tuesday, April 03, 2018 Chief Probation Officer and court factotum Rodney Fetcher and I met with the Posey County Board of Commissioners to discuss the auxiliary courtroom on the first floor of the courthouse. You may recall we have been working toward creating a small but fully functioning courtroom that can greatly enhance public access to court services while aiding the Posey Superior and Circuit Courts to concentrate on other important matters of concern.
The elements of an American courtroom have changed little since the 1600’s: a judge’s bench and judge, places for the opposing parties (usually two), a court reporter with means to keep a record, a witness area and some public seating.
If citizens from Salem, Massachusetts were to hold a witch trial in a contemporary courtroom it would require only a few minutes for them to acclimate to the electricity and technology because these are simply ways we now enhance the attempted delivery of justice; the same justice sought for hundreds of years. Of course, justice is not always the result, but the physical plant is not to blame.
In Posey County, Indiana we have two fully functioning courts of general jurisdiction that often need to have people appear who are incarcerated or may be expert witnesses who have to travel great distances. Our goal of a newly refurbished courtroom would have video conferencing availability connected with our new jail and perhaps unlimited other locations. There would no longer be a need for several sheriff’s deputies to transport inmates to court for most preliminary matters. Trials would still be in person but most other hearings would not. Money and time would be saved while security would be enhanced and public humiliation lessened.
Indiana law allows for Senior Judges, Special Judges and Magistrates to hold hearings while the regular judges are conducting other proceedings. However, in Posey County we need another court facility for such use. Normally a new or renovated courthouse would be quite expensive. But we in Posey County have the opportunity to enhance justice, public service, security and fiscal responsibility by creating one new court reporter position and using some of our historical courthouse furnishings in an existing room in our historical courthouse. And we can have such a courtroom in operation quickly.
The immediate plan is to set up the courtroom for hearings and video conferencing. I estimate we can establish such a courtroom at a cost of less than $50,000 for the courtroom furnishings now plus the salary of one court reporter (approximately $40,000 per year plus regular county benefits to start January 1, 2019). Of course, such decisions are within the purview of the Commissioners and County Council with consultation with the judges.
An intermediate goal is to have Senior Judges, who are paid by the State, Posey County currently uses two on a case-by-case basis, or Special Judges selected for particular matters, conduct hearings in the small courtroom while both regular courtrooms are in session with the regular judges. Initial hearings in criminal matters and confidential family court cases normally do not involve many people. Such matters are well suited to our new small courtroom.
Long term goals might involve the creation of a full-time or part-time Magistrate to have a regular schedule in the new courtroom. On such issues I will defer to the sound judgment of future county officials unless I am requested to engage on this issue. For now, I respectfully suggest it is in Posey County’s best interest to implement the immediate and intermediate plans.