Who’s on first?
Married couples filing for divorce in Harrison County could wind up in criminal court, but it will still be legal.
To equalize the case load between Superior Court (which handles criminal cases) and Circuit Court (which handles ‘dissolution of marriage’ cases), the Indiana Supreme Court has approved filing every fourth divorce in Superior Court. The ruling, however, applies only to Harrison Circuit and Superior courts, per the two judges’ requests.
In accordance with an order signed by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, and the amended rule adopted by Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis and Judge Roger D. Davis, the change takes effect today.
‘It’s a new local rule,’ said Circuit Clerk Sherry Brown, who will simply assign every fourth case to Superior Court rather than Circuit Court. She will take each day’s dissolution case files, if any, to the Superior Clerk’s office at the Harrison County Justice Center. The number assigned to each case will reflect whether the case has been assigned to Superior or Circuit Court to simplify tracking the case file. To determine the court to which a case has or will be assigned, persons should call the Circuit Clerk’s office, 738-4289.
(The Circuit Clerk is also responsible for the Superior Court Clerk’s office.)
Papers, such as a summons to which a person must respond, will reflect the court’s address to which a person should respond, said Whitis.
That could worsen the trouble some people have in knowing which court to go to for what purposes, but not if they have received a paper that identifies the court, Whitis said.
‘This is a temporary thing; we will see how it goes,’ said Davis. ‘We will have to review it in the coming year.’
About 240 to 250 dissolution of marriage cases are filed each year in Harrison Circuit Court.
In addition, the circuit court hears a variety of other cases, including juvenile delinquency, paternity and miscellaneous juvenile matters, all children in need of services (abused or neglected), parental rights, child support, custody and visitation, protective orders, mental health issues, guardianships, adoptions, trusts, civil lawsuits, property disputes, certain collections, trusts, mortgage foreclosures and probate cases. For any of those matters, a person summoned to court would visit the downtown courthouse at 300 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon.
Whitis said his caseload was lightened when the county council recently provided funding to hire a referee to assist him a couple of days a week, but more relief is needed. ‘There’s still a lot of cases,’ he said. ‘We’re trying to equalize the (weighted) case load.’
For instance, more ‘weight’ would be given to a divorce case, which can require many hearings, as compared to a ticketed offense, which requires only a trip to the Superior Court Clerk’s office to pay the ticket unless a person pleads not guilty.
From 850 to more than 1,000 adult criminal cases are filed each year, with this past year’s cases being the lowest number in more than a decade. The record highest was in 1997 when 1,230 cases were filed. That high number was due in part to a backlog of bad check cases filed that year, said then-prosecutor Ronald W. Simpson.
Besides criminal cases, which include crimes to children, Superior Court hears petitions for post-conviction relief and probation violations, all infractions (such as traffic tickets), ordinance violations, small claims and certain civil collections.
For any of those matters, including paying a traffic ticket or bonding out a prisoner, a person would visit the Harrison County Justice Center at 1445 Gardner Lane, Corydon.
Either judge or one from another county can be appointed to fill in for the other if there’s an appearance of a conflict.
Equalizing the weighted caseloads does not mean a third court isn’t needed, which is under discussion.
Even though the courts are taking steps to adapt, population growth will continue and caseloads in both courts could spiral. Harrison County officials shouldn’t wait until a crisis before acting, said Whitis.
‘When the county council approved the referee part-time, I think it may have put off a third court for a time or at least delayed it,’ Whitis said, adding that officials should take a proactive stance rather than waiting until the system is overloaded to create a third court.
‘I don’t know why they would want to get behind and then try to catch up,’ he said.
Officials have discussed an addition to the justice center that would allow all three courts to locate there, but no final decision has been reached. In that event, all property related offices, such as the auditor, treasurer, recorder, planning and zoning, would remain in the downtown courthouse.
The commissioners have requested $75,000 to fund an update of the county’s long-range plan to determine what will be needed. The council will consider the request at its Jan. 8 meeting at 7:30 p.m., in the downtown courthouse.