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Shift a judge to Southern Utah, report says

Published: Saturday, Feb. 13 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The Legislature Auditor General's Office has said a "limited review" of judicial workloads shows that a vacant judicial position in the state's 2nd District Court in northern Utah should be shifted to the juvenile court in 5th District in southwestern Utah.

The Judicial Council, which oversees the state courts, said it made the recommendation due to budgetary constraints and to make better use of judicial resources.

However, the auditor's document noted it was difficult to properly compare workloads since data from the 2nd District Court has not been updated since 1997 — and those figures were being compared to 5th District Juvenile Court information from 2009.

Nonetheless, the auditor's report said the idea of shifting a judicial position "appears reasonable."

"Available evidence indicates a much more acute need for judicial resources in the 5th District Juvenile than in the 2nd District," the report states.

The state court system is divided into districts, with the 2nd District including Weber, Davis and Morgan counties. The 5th District includes Beaver, Iron and Washington counties. The report was issued Friday.

Second District Presiding Judge Michael Lyon said Friday he respectfully disagrees with the Judicial Council's decision and offered a different perspective.

"Unfortunately, the council chose to compare two different weighted-case load standards used by the district courts and the juvenile courts," he said.

The work of judges of each court system is different and difficult to compare, Lyon said, especially since the statewide district court hasn't re-evaluated its weighted-case load formula since 1997.

"Since the district court system adopted its standards, judges of that court have seen burgeoning pro se litigation that takes more judicial time, in some instances, to dispose of cases; the Legislature has imposed new statutory responsibilities on district judges, requiring more work and shorter deadlines; and we have added drug courts in Weber and Davis counties that require more judge time," he said.

"Finally, though the outdated standards applied to the 2nd District Court might suggest the district is slightly over-judged, we judges disagree. New statutory responsibilities, drug courts and anecdotal evidence from busy judges persuade us that we are not over-judged, but will now be under-judged by the council's action," Lyon said.

The auditor's report said a weighted-case load study showed the workload went down 16 percent in 2nd District Court between 2001 and 2009, but increased 78 percent during that time in 5th District Juvenile Court.

The review said the information currently available shows the 2nd District has 1.3 more judicial positions than it needs, while 5th District Juvenile has .75 fewer judicial positions than it needs.

The report acknowledged that 2nd District court officials "believe the outdated workload data has underrepresented their true workload." The auditor's office said that because of the limited nature of this particular review, it could not validate this claim.

The report urged the Judicial Council to require the boards of district court judges and juvenile judges to "regularly" review and update their weighted-case load studies, and that the Judicial Council consider ways to make these weighted case load studies "as comparable as possible."

e-mail: lindat@desnews.com

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