Columbia County Circuit Court officials hope to reduce the workload on staff by revisiting the court’s arrangement with its court commissioner and adding a third day of work to the contract.
Judge Todd Hepler told the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that it had been nearly 20 years since the county had revisited its arrangement with the court commissioner, a two-day-a-week contractor.
“We would like to see if we can structure it so we can have the commissioner here three days, which would allow us to have the commissioner do some things he is doing now that is being done by judges, such as traffic,” Hepler said of the position.
Court Commissioner Charles Church oversees weekly walk-in bond hearings and initial appearances on Wednesday afternoons, normally consisting of traffic and misdemeanor offenses, with occasional low-level felony cases.
The proposed expanded tasks, such as handling traffic cases and preliminary hearings — which usually end in waivers or rescheduling — often are handled by commissioners in other counties, and would give judges more time for other cases.
“We are not going to get more than three judges in the foreseeable future,” said Columbia County Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf. “Two days has worked great, and going back 20 years, Columbia County once had a full-time commissioner. So we’re trying to make up ground.”
The cost of the contract with the court commissioner — $57,000 budgeted in 2017 for the commissioner, and an additional $8,000 for reporting and support — is covered by county levy, though some costs are recovered by child support fees, Ruf said.
“As Joe said, ages ago we had a full-time court commissioner with support staff,” Clerk of Courts Susan Raimer said. “That was all dissolved and we went down to the two days and we have been functioning on the two days, so basically my office picked up the support duties: the scheduling, the clerking, the paperwork, the follow-through.”
The Clerk of Courts Office includes a staff of 10, Raimer said, with nine deputy clerks and one chief deputy clerk.
Ruf said putting out a request for proposals could end in a greater expense due to the extra day, but in a competitive process could result in a lower cost bid.
Although the process could begin without committee authorization, committee member Mark Sleger moved that the committee give its official approval, and it passed unanimously.
Also Tuesday, Committee Chairman Matthew Rohrbeck addressed a request from the District Attorney’s Office for an increase in hours for a legal secretary from 18.75 hours to 40 hours per week, at a cost of just under $20,000.
A request and position description were submitted by the District Attorney’s Office, though neither District Attorney Jane Kohlwey or any member of her staff were available to speak on behalf of the request at the meeting.
“By the looks of it, it is increasing one individual’s hours, but is this position going to be posted for other people to apply?” committee member Bob Koch of Lodi asked Rohrbeck. “Or when she was hired, was it indicated to the applicants that this could potentially turn into a full-time position?”
Although the woman now in that position may be the most qualified candidate, Koch told the committee, had the job been posted as a full-time position, it would have made a difference in the applicants vying for the job.
“It’s really difficult to make this decision without a rep from the DA’s Office here,” Sleger said.
The committee voted unanimously to deny the District Attorney’s request.