Porter judges take stand
July 21, 2010
VALPARAISO -- The cases that Porter County Magistrate James Johnson has under advisement -- that are backlogged and waiting for decisions -- will be ruled on by Oct. 1.
That's according to a schedule set by the Porter County judges at a closed meeting Tuesday.
"We have established a plan and a schedule for having the magistrate rule on the under-advisements," said Judge Mary Harper of the Porter County Circuit Court. "He will address those cases on a steady, scheduled basis."
Porter County magistrates handle divorce, estate and other family cases. The six judges want Johnson to devote himself full-time to eliminating the backlog, so they are also looking to appoint a probate commissioner to assist with current cases.
"We agreed that we need to keep the business of the court current while the magistrate works on the backlog," Harper said.
As the county's Circuit Court Judge, Harper will preside over a public hearing Friday at 11:30 a.m. to determine if there's a need to appoint a probate commissioner. It was a matter all the judges agreed to.
"The probate commissioner status has been used before when there was a case overload," Harper said. "It's not in regard to Magistrate Johnson. It's in regard to getting the people's work done."
Johnson was a probate commissioner before becoming a magistrate, as was Katherine Ratliff Forbes in Superior Court 2 and Judge Jeffery Thode of Superior Court 6.
If a probate commissioner is determined to be needed, a person will be put in place promptly. Harper did not specify how prompt that would be.
The extent of Johnson's backlog became known in the second quarter report.
Judge Roger Bradford, who supervises Johnson, noted on the report that "th
e dramatic increase in the magistrate's cases under advisement is due to the fact that the magistrate previously reported only cases taken under advisement during the quarter reported. The number now includes all cases the magistrate has under advisement."
Harper acknowledged that Johnson's health problems contributed to the cases under advisement. "He had serious heart problems for the last several years," she said.
Johnson also was recently ill over the winter because of those problems.
Although Johnson had 97 cases under advisement at the end of the second quarter in June, that backlog has been reduced to somewhere in the 80s, Harper said.
She also expressed respect for his work. "The man is good on the law. His decisions are generally upheld if appealed," she said. Magistrate James Johnson's backlog must be cleared by Oct. 1