Wednesday, July 21, 2010

07212010 - News Article - Help to be brought in for magistrate - Magistrate James Johnson judicial investigation

Help to be brought in for magistrate
NWI Times
Bob Kasarda
July 21, 2010 12:00 am

VALPARAISO - The county's judges agreed Tuesday evening to seek assistance for Magistrate James Johnson so he can focus exclusively over the next couple of months on catching up with a large backlog of pending cases.

Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper said she intends to host a public hearing at 11:30 a.m. Friday in her courtroom on the proposal to hire a part-time probate commissioner to hear new cases scheduled before Johnson.

The probate commissioner could be hired as soon as Friday if nothing of concern surfaces during the required hearing, she said.

Johnson, in the meantime, will be provided with a weekly schedule designed to guide him through the backlog of cases by Oct. 1, Harper said. The county's six judges constantly will monitor his progress, she said.

"We think that's the fairest way to get these cases done," Harper said.

The action was taken in response to news that Johnson had 97 cases he had not yet ruled on by the end of June, as compared to just three cases pending before his fellow adult magistrate, Katherine Forbes.

Harper said Johnson's backlog since has been reduced to a number somewhere in the 80s.

The backlog reportedly has triggered a state investigation, though officials there will not comment.

This is not the first time the county has hired a probate commissioner to help ease a caseload, Harper said.

But it is the first time the approach has been used to help a magistrate catch up on cases under advisement.
While Johnson's poor health has contributed to the backlog of cases, Harper said she believes he now is doing well enough to resolve the problem.

Johnson has served as a magistrate since 1989. He and Forbes handle divorce, estate and guardianship cases.

The probate commissioner, who will be hired on an hourly basis without benefits, will be paid out of a family court fund within the circuit court budget, Harper said.


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