BOISE -- State lawmakers added five new judges to three counties this year to help with case overload, but now counties have to pick up related, and somewhat unexpected, costs.
"It was a big surprise for the county. We thought maybe we'd get one judge, and then we get a district court judge and two magistrates," Ada County Clerk Christopher Rich said.
One new district judge is going to each Ada, Jefferson, and Canyon Counties. According to the legislation, the last new district judge was added to Ada County in 2007, to Canyon County in 2006, and no judges currently are chambered in Jefferson County.
NEW JUDGES COST STATE EXTRA
Those three new district judge positions will come from state general funds, with an annual cost for the judge positions and other costs totaling $673,200 annually. Ada County will also get two new magistrate judges, paid for by state dollars.
The district judge legislation's statement of purpose explains, "Dealing with Idaho's growing population and caseload and continuing to expand the capacity of drug and mental health courts requires these additional judicial resources."
The new magistrate judges will mainly focus on family law, which the clerk says has been an overloaded area and helps cut down on the financial impact to the county.
"If these judges had all been put on the criminal side, we would have needed even more attorneys. So this is actually probably the least expensive option that the court could bring to the county," Rich said.
COUNTIES PICK UP THE SLACK
The judges and some associated costs are all state-funded, Rich explains, but counties have to pay for other things, like clerks and courtrooms.
"The challenge that our commissioners are going to face when they have to develop the budget is that... essentially $1 million ongoing is going for things that we really hadn't anticipated. Maybe one judge and the support personnel, but certainly not for three," Rich said.
Rich provided the following breakdown of ongoing costs to the county:
General Fund Costs:
- Sheriff's Office Transport Team - 2 deputies $111,244
- Prosecutor's Office - 2 attorneys, 2 legal assistants, dues, equipment, training $260,947
- Public Defender - 3 attorneys, 1 legal assistant, equipment, cubicles $305,153
District Court Fund:
- Clerk's Office - 3 clerks (one per judge), a clerk supervisor, equipment $211,200
- Trial Court Administrator - secretary, law clerk $115,285
TOTAL = $1,003,829
In addition to the ongoing costs for adding the necessary and corresponding staff, Rich says Ada County will also need to shuffle offices around and add another courtroom.
"We're thinking [the judges will] come on October 1st, so there's going to be some scrambling here in the building. We're already starting to look at what we need to do to move personnel and offices around," Rich said.
Rich says renovations and moving people will cost around $400,000 and adding a new courtroom will be around $1.2 million. While the county is working to start some of this before October 1, some things, like the new courtroom won't be done by then.
"[The courtroom is] about a 14 month project, and it's going to be $1 million right there. So we're not going to have the courtroom ready in anticipation for their arrival, so there will be some 'double bunking', if you will," Rich said.
The county says it has some leftover funds to start some of the renovation projects soon. Commissioners are currently working on the next fiscal year's budgets that will include the other work and additional people. The 2014 fiscal budget will be finalized in August. The new judges begin on the same day as the new fiscal year.