Saturday, July 24, 2010

07242010 - News Article - Attorney hired to help ease court's backlog in Porter County - Magistrate James Johnson judicial investigation

Attorney hired to help ease court's backlog in Porter County
NWI Times
July 24, 2010
VALPARAISO | Tears welled up in Linda Moore's eyes as she described how she filed for divorce nine months ago before Magistrate James Johnson and had two hearings, yet is still waiting for a ruling.
The delay, she said, is adding to the already painful process.

Moore was one of two people who spoke out during a public hearing Friday in favor of the county judges hiring a part-time probate commissioner to handle new cases in Johnson's courtroom while he is freed up to work on a backlog of cases that had reached 97 at the end of last month.

Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper, who hosted the hearing in her courtroom, issued word later in the day that attorney Mary DeBoer had been hired for the job.

DeBoer, who works with the Starke County prosecutor's office, had served as temporary judge in Johnson's court while he received medical treatment, according to a news release issued by the county judges.

The judges said DeBoer's appointment is expected to last 60 to 90 days.

The move was favored not only by the two women with pending divorces who spoke out during he hearing, but also in writing by four attorneys, Harper said.

The decision to hire a probate commissioner was made earlier this week by the county judges.

Harper said earlier this week that Johnson will be given a weekly schedule designed to guide him through the backlog of cases by Oct. 1. The county's six judges constantly will monitor his progress, she said.

While fellow Magistrate Katherine Forbes had just three cases under advisement at the end of last month, Valparaiso resident Janet Miller, who spoke out during Friday's hearing, said afterward her divorce case has been pending before Forbes since July 2005.

The divorce itself has gone through, she said, but there has yet to be a settlement on assets.

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

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 part-time 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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