Judicial Center seeing high workload

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

No plans to expand on 12-year-old building

The Cassville Judicial Center, newly renovated in 2003 just 12 years old, daily serves the public in a variety of ways.

It administers justice, hearing and resolving civil, domestic, criminal, traffic and drug cases, handles probation and parole matters, hears exparte cases to keep individuals safe, and other matters.

From smaller issues like traffic tickets and small claims to more serious criminal matters, the center is the hub at which multiple issues most of the general public has had to deal with at one point or another are heard and resolved.

The center houses three courtrooms, the prosecuting attorney's office, probation and parole office and public administrator.

The center has five judges who hear civil and criminal cases, including two associate judges who are full-time, one circuit judge who handles cases for Barry, Stone and Lawrence counties, and two senior judges. On average, judges hear approximately 120-200 criminal cases per day on their respective days, 40-60 associate circuit cases on their respective assigned days and many expartes twice per week.

The judicial center is bigger and an improvement over the old center, but room comes at a premium, and officials have to squeeze cases in as they can. As for the reasons behind an increase in cases and workload, no one is really sure.

"The workload is very high," said Cherry Warren, presiding commissioner.

Even with the workload, Warren said he is not aware of any plans to expand the judicial center.

"I haven't heard anything," he said. "We have a room we use for storage next to the public administrator's office. It has central heating and air."

He said if the center needed another courtroom, they could possibly use the storage room and build another area for storage behind the building.

"When we built the judicial center and jail, we had put money aside and had the money to pay for it," Warren said. "We were one of few counties in the state that was able to do that. It's been our policy to try to plan and save so if things come up we have the money."

Warren said in 1994, a half-percent sales tax was passed, and with a 10 percent increase, has produced approximately $190,000 since in revenue.

At a meeting in December 2014, the commissioners started a capital projects fund for this year's budget, and started the budgeted process in January.

"It is money we run our county on, along with some fees we get and so on," said Gary Youngblood, county clerk. "We set money aside in case we have a need for it later on, but there are no specific plans right now for what we're going to use the money for."

The issue of raising the prosecutor's salary by one percent at mid-year had come up. Now, Warren said he is not aware of that happening and that the commissioners have no say on salaries, as they are mandated by the state.

"If judge's salaries are raised, the prosecutor's salary follows," he said. "I'd be very surprised if that were to happen with the way the state's finances are. We got a second associate judge about 15 years ago and have two."

"We'll go through that process again later this year," Youngblood said. "That's what we had requested in December for this year's budget."

While the general consensus agree that the workload may be high at the judicial center, Warren said right now there are no plans in the immediate future to expand the facility.

"I'm thankful everything is very quiet," said Youngblood.

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