No decisions made yet on proposal to change circuit court boundaries

No decisions made yet on proposal to change circuit court boundaries Members of the South Dakota Supreme Court � Justice David Gilbertson, Chief Justice Robert A. Miller, Justice John K. Konenkamp, Justice Robert A. Amundson and Justice Richard W. Sabers, inspect a map of South Dakota displayed at a public hearing Wednesday morning in the Clay County Courthouse. The Supreme Court was in Vermillion to gather public input on a proposal that would change circuit court boundaries. The map contains the newly-drawn borders of the seven circuits currently being proposed. by David Lias Michael Buenger, the state court administrator, told a near capacity audience in the Clay County Courthouse Wednesday morning that a proposal to change circuit court boundaries in South Dakota was just that � a proposal.

�This hearing is intended to provide you with an opportunity to give your input,� he said as the meeting opened in the courthouse�s third floor courtroom. �No decisions have been made. There are no preconceived intentions to implement this proposal.�

The South Dakota Supreme Court has been holding hearings across the state this month. The first public meeting was held June 3 in Pierre. This week, the Supreme Court�s five justices met with the public in Watertown and Vermillion.

The justices will hold their last hearing to gather public input June 25 in Rapid City.

Buenger stood by two large maps of South Dakota. One showed the present boundaries of the state�s eight judicial circuits that have been in place since 1977. The second map showed the proposed circuit court changes, which include:

? Creating circuits that recognize common trade areas and anticipated growth areas.

? Ensuring adequate judicial resources throughout the state by generally increasing the number of circuit judges and magistrate judges in those areas of the state experiencing population and caseload growth.

? Minimizing the disruption that sitting judges and staff may experience if required to move because of circuit court boundary reorganization.

? Reducing the number of circuits and improving the quality of circuit administration.

�The current circuit court boundaries have not changed remarkably over the past 20 years. Since 1977, the state has been divided into eight judicial circuits,� Buenger said.

He noted, however, that South Dakota�s population has changed a great deal during the past two decades.

�Since 1977, when the eight-circuit system was created, the state has experienced unprecedented changes in demographics and the courts have seen not only an increase in caseload, but a shifting of that caseload largely corresponding to the demographic changes,� Buenger said.

And in some areas, the workload in the court system is exceeding population trends. For example, Minnehaha County has experienced over a 50 percent gain in population since the last change in the court system. But its circuit court caseload has grown by over 80 percent.

So it just makes sense, Buenger said, to shift the court�s manpower � in this case its circuit court judges � to those areas of the state where a growing population is having an impact on the workload of the court system.

�People generate cases, and deciding cases is the work of the courts,� Buenger said.

In 1996, the Supreme Court created the Unified Judicial System Planning Council and charged that body with the task of presenting recommendations to the Court for short and long-term improvements to the Unified Judicial System.

Buenger said the council used demographic information supplied by The University of South Dakota Business Research Bureau and caseload information compiled and analyzed by the National Center for State Courts.

The council�s conclusions included:

? Data indicates that population density in a defined area has a direct correlation on the caseload of the judiciary.

? Population trends have a significant effect upon the judicial system. Staffing patterns and judicial boundaries should reflect demographic changes within the state.

? Given current and anticipated financial and personnel limitations, the Unified Judicial System can no longer afford to do business in the same way. The politics of �no new taxes,� more restrictive budget limitations, and a 70 year pattern of migration from rural to urban areas make it necessary to re-evaluate, coordinate and consolidate existing services and programs.

? Current circuit boundaries do not reflect the demographic realities that have evolved since the United Judicial System was established in 1975. The existing circuit boundaries cross population centers, growth areas and business trade areas. This causes jurisdictional problems and inefficiency in the delivery of judicial services. This problem will only be exacerbated as present demographic trends continue.

Buenger said the �Seven Circuit Plan� being proposed would concentrate several growth areas, lessen caseload disparity and increase the number of circuit judges available in those circuits experiencing the greatest caseload increases.

�The plan also meets one other recommendation of the council which was the elimination of part-time magistrate judges in favor of full-time magistrate judges,� he said.

This would be the make-up of the state�s circuit court system if the proposed changes were implemented:

New First Circuit

Counties: Clay, Union, Yankton, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Buffalo, Brule, Aurora, Davison, Hanson, McCook, Douglas, Hutchinson and Turner.

Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of six circuit judges and two full-time magistrate judges, for a total of eight judges.

New Second Circuit

Counties: Minnehaha and Lincoln.

Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of eight circuit judges and four full-time magistrate judges, for a total of 12 judges.

New Third Circuit

Counties: Hyde, Hand, Beadle, Jerauld, Sanborn, Clark, Kingsbury, Brookings, Hamlin, Codington, Lake, Moody, Grant, Miner and Deuel.

Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of six circuit judges and one full-time magistrate judge, for a total of seven judges.

New Fourth Circuit

Counties: Sully, Hughes, Lyman, Gregory, Tripp/Todd, Mellette, Jones, Stanley, Haakon, Jackson and Bennett. Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of four circuit judges and one magistrate judge, for a total of five judges. The full-time magistrate judge would also serve in the western portion of the fifth circuit.

New Fifth Circuit

Counties: Corson, Dewey, Edmunds, Brown, Roberts, Campbell, Walworth, Faulk, Marshall, Potter, McPherson, Spink, Ziebach and Day.

Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of four circuit judges and one magistrate judge, for a total of five judges. The full-time magistrate judge in the new fourth circuit would also serve in this circuit.

New Sixth Circuit

Counties: Harding, Perkins, Butte, Meade and Lawrence.

Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of four circuit judges and one magistrate judge, for a total of five judges.

New Seventh Circuit

Counties: Pennington, Custer and Fall River/Shannon.

Judicial assignments: The circuit would be comprised of six circuit judges and three magistrate judges, for a total of nine judges.

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