Utah's judiciary has come a long way from the days when each city had its own independent court, part-time judge and peculiar set of procedures and local rules.
Since the 1960s, judicial reforms have established a statewide court, which now operates in a streamlined, consistent and unified manner, said Gordon R. Hall, chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, in his state-of-the-judiciary address Monday afternoon to the Utah Legislature."At this point it would be tempting to pat ourselves on the back for the progress we have made and let the system coast for a few years," Hall said. "But evidence gathered by the Commission on Justice in the 21st Century and by other committees of the Judicial Council and the Legislature tell us this would be a dangerous thing to do."
Because of Utah's rapid population growth, case filings in the state courts will exceed 1 million by the year 2000. Hall said the most dramatic increases over the next decade will occur among juveniles and young adult offenders.
"We can accurately predict that as the `bubble' of youngsters who hit their teens in the 1980s reaches the 19-25 age group in the '90s, criminal filings in the circuit and district courts will spike up," he said.
Jurists also expect a corresponding increase in civil case load, but the pace and pattern of the growth likely will not be even across levels of court, Hall said.
Recent data suggest that 26 new judges and scores of support personnel will be required by 1996 to keep up with increased filings.
"If we maintain the current system and fail to add new judges as case loads increase, we will eventually be plagued with the delays in getting into court that are currently besetting many court systems throughout the country. . . . Our only choice is to move toward a system with built-in flexibility to meet our rapidly changing needs."
Hall said the overriding goal of the Judicial Council and its many subcommittees is to use existing resources with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
"But I am firmly convinced that if we are given the tools we need, we can accommodate further expansion with only minimal growth in judges, staff and facilities," Hall said.
One of the bills before the Legislature calls for consolidating levels of court, which would enable the system to absorb case-load growth with existing facilities and personnel.
The bill, the Court Transition Bill, also would raise the circuit court jurisdiction ceiling to $20,000 and the small claims jurisdiction limit to $1,500.
"It is extremely important to the future of the justice system that this bill be passed, no matter what action is taken on other parts of the Judicial Council legislative package during the session."