EDITORIAL: Speedy trials, speedy rulings
July 23, 2010 - 12:00 am
Porter County's judges have come up with a plan to help Magistrate James Johnson clear up his enormous backlog of pending cases. They are proposing to hire a part-time probate commissioner to hear new cases.
Porter Circuit Judge Mary Harper will hold a public hearing on that proposal at 11:30 a.m. today in her courtroom.
Depending on what surfaces at the public hearing today, the probate commissioner could be hired immediately -- meaning as soon as today.
This is a novel, but intriguing, way for Johnson to get caught up on those old cases.
The county's judges also would monitor Johnson's progress in clearing up those cases by Oct. 1.
As one of Porter County's two magistrates, Johnson deals with divorce, estate and guardianship cases.
At the end of June, Johnson had yet to rule on 97 cases, compared to just three before fellow magistrate Katherine Forbes.
The plan to hire a part-timer to allow Johnson to get caught up should be good news for the people awaiting his rulings. If their cases were assigned to another judge, they might have to go through the whole process all over again, making them go through the pain of appearing in court again, in some cases, and delaying justice even more than it already has been.
Johnson must work quickly to reduce that backlog so justice isn't delayed for the many people awaiting their rulings. He has had health issues, but the fact is that he just hasn't been able to get the job done in the time allotted.
This isn't just a matter of too much work for one person to accomplish. The county's other magistrate has been up to the task.
However, the probate commissioner must be temporary relief. What hiring that commissioner means is, in essence, that money is diverted from its intended purposes because of a county employee's inability to perform his duties in a timely manner.
For magistrates, as with any other employees, performance matters. It's either shape up or be shipped out.
The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications is reportedly investigating this situation, although the agency normally won't confirm any current investigations.
The Porter County judges' response in the meantime is a practical stop-gap solution.