Washington County’s two Sessions Court judges will spend the next few months developing a schedule and division of duties among themselves and the new judge, who is expected to start work in January.
Judge James Nidiffer said he was pleased when the County Commission approved the new position Tuesday night.
Nidiffer also said he and Judge Robert Lincoln will need to discuss with Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn how the new court will be staffed.
“Our plan is to get with Karen (Guinn), the DA’s and clerks. We’ll put a calendar out and we’ll divvy up the three courts — civil, criminal and juvenile,” Nidiffer said Wednesday.
Nidiffer and Lincoln share equal duties in those three areas, and the new judge will be included in that same process.
Nidiffer said the third court will help ease the heavy load he and Lincoln have carried.
“Last night we didn’t stop until 6:30 p.m. and we still had a preliminary hearing but at the last minute the defendant waived the case,” Nidiffer said.
“We’re going to make the workload even and maximize that judge’s time,” he said.
One of the three judges will have to float from courtroom to courtroom since there are only seven courtrooms in the justice center — four downstairs and three upstairs — and there will now be eight judges.
Guinn said she will have to hire two new deputy clerks to staff the new court as well as a laptop with recording capabilities.
Criminal and juvenile matters must be recorded, but civil cases are not. Nidiffer said the judge that handles civil cases on a given day would likely be the one holding court in another courtroom, so recording equipment isn’t required.
Guinn said even with that scenario, having the new equipment is necessary to avoid potential conflicts.
District Attorney General Tony Clark said last month he is working on a plan to staff the new court as well. Clark has already moved some of his staff around in anticipation of the coming changes.
Nidiffer said the bottom line is to ensure defendants receive the justice they’re entitled to.
“Our main concern ... we have to get justice here for people. There’s just so many people,” he said, referring to the large number of cases in Sessions Court.
The new judge will initially be appointed by the County Commission, then must run in the next general election in 2014.