PRINCETON — Gibson Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Meade and Gibson Superior Court Judge Robert Krieg have the endorsement of the county's fiscal body as they petition for the addition of a magistrate to help handle the county court system's caseload.
Gibson County Council members unanimously agreed that Council President Jay Riley should write an endorsement letter for the request. The judges also plan to ask for an endorsement letter from Gibson County Commissioners next week.
Meade and Krieg said they will make their request to the state legislature during this summer study session, estimating that summer of 2020 is earliest a request could be approved.
Meade told the council Gibson County ties for fifth among Indiana's 92 counties regarding the severity of need for a magistrate. A magistrate is a licensed attorney who would act as a judge, under the supervision of the two elected judges.
He said that if the request is approved, the state would pay for the salary and benefits. Krieg agreed that he would work with Meade to provide support staff and space. Meade said he thinks he can rearrange his probation office space to make room for a magistrate office.
Krieg estimated that Superior Court has 1,005 pending cases, and reported that between the two courts, Gibson County is nearly at the 90-day maximum allowance for senior judge availability to handle cases.
He said he's completing recertification to re-launch the Gibson County Drug Court program, which will require more time to administer.
He told the council that he would likely assign small claims cases to a magistrate if the position is approved by the legislature.
Both judges said they believe the request will be approved.
Council members asked the judges how a magistrate would be selected. Meade said he and Krieg would choose the magistrate. "It works sort of like an old married couple," he joked, before explaining that if the two judges can't agree on the same attorney to serve in the role as magistrate, the county attorney weighs in with a tie-breaker vote.
"I want to commend the judges for being proactive," McDonald told the council. "We believe it's the right thing to do for the county.
Councilman Derek McGraw offered the motion to have the council offer a letter of support, and his motion was supported by councilman Bill McConnell. "I don't know how we can get this in motion quick enough...we've got some long-range planning to do," McConnell said. "I couldn't be happier with the cooperation being shown here."
Councilman Craig Pflug asked what preparations would need to be made in anticipation for the legislature's approval in 2020, suggesting that the county budget for the addition during this summer's work on the 2020 budget.
Krieg said if the request is made during summer study committee, the recommendation could be made through a bill introduced in the 2020 legislative session, which could take effect in July 2020.