Public officials at a town meeting on future needs of the Utah judicial system expressed reservations about legislation eliminating circuit courts and a recommendation to bring the Justice Court system under state jurisdiction.
The comments were noted Wednesday by five judges on the 28-member Commission on Justice in the 21st Century at the first of a series of town meetings on the court system.Comments are being taken through May 29 for consideration by the panel in final recommendations for meeting immediate and long-term needs of the Utah judicial system.
Third District Court Judge Scott Daniels, a member of the Access to Courts Subcommittee, briefed about 15 people at the Moab meeting on the preliminary document: "Doing Utah Justice: A Progress Report to the People of Utah."
The briefing followed a video presentation about the yearlong project. The report addresses issues that subcommittees studied in five categories: access to the courts, quality of justice, court organization, public information and outreach, and court technology.
The meeting April 18 at the Grand County Courthouse launched a series scheduled in 15 locations throughout the state.
In Moab, Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland praised the commission for a good job on the study, which he said should result in speedier action on court cases.
Nyland said a specific concern statewide, especially among sheriffs, is whether the state will take over justice courts and how much of a revenue loss that would mean for local governments.
"Our justice court brings in quite a sum for our county. The bottom line is money," Nyland said.
Circuit courts will be eliminated statewide by 1998, under a bill passed in the last session of the Utah Legislature. Most cases handled in circuit court in the past will go to district court, while minor misdemeanors, small claims and traffic citations will go to justice court.
Justice courts have basically been at the mercy of local governments, which provided their funding. Now, because of the new legislation, local governments are required to budget for justice courts to meet certain state standards for staff and operating equipment, Chris Rogers, justice of the peace in Grand County, explained after the meeting.
Judge Michael Murphy, a 3rd District Court commission member, told Nyland the Judicial Council addressed reorganization of the courts "without an eye to economic consequences."
"The idea was to be moving dollars around within the same universe," he said.
County Commission Chairman David Knutson reiterated that justice court revenues are a major source of revenue for Grand County, which he said collects about $100,000 a year in fines and forfeitures.
"We depend on that to operate the county. A part of that is the justice court here," he said.
While he supports most of the recommendations in the report, Knutson said commissioners need to know how much the changes will cost counties.