Fiscal note for new Southern Utah judge comes with hefty price tag

Composite image, St. George News

CEDAR CITY –  A bill providing relief for 5th District judges in Southern Utah carrying high caseloads is making its way through the Utah Legislature, but it comes with a sizable price tag of nearly half a million dollars.

The 2017 general session’s House Bill 77, entitled “Fifth District Court Judge” and sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, District 74, adds a judge to the 5th Judicial District, but the fiscal note attached to the bill sets an annual cost of $433,000. That money is primarily to cover the costs of salary and benefits of the judge, two judicial assistants and additional bailiffs to provide extra security.

“I know it’s not cheap but it’s also something we in Southern Utah badly need,” Snow said, who is a practicing attorney throughout the state. “I know that sometimes it’s really hard to get a case in front of a judge because they are scheduled so far out.”

If passed, the bill would create a sixth judgeship for a district that covers Washington, Beaver and Iron counties.

Assistant State Court Administrator Rick Schwermer told the House Judiciary Committee last week that the judges currently serving in the 5th District have 130 percent of the standard workload carried by most judges in the state and often need assistance from retired senior judges and visiting judges regularly stepping in to help.

In an interview with Cedar City News, Snow said he believes part of the reason for the excessive caseload is that the district has not had an additional judge for more than 10 years yet the population has continued to grow in that time.

“We have really grown in our population but still have the same number of judges we had 10 years ago,” he said.

Similar bills have been submitted in the past by other legislators, including former Sen. Steve Urquhart, but each time Southern Utah was passed over.

“In previous years there were other counties in the northern part of the state that were asking for judges too. The Legislature wasn’t going to give us two judges,” Snow said. “This legislative session no one else is asking for a judge. So the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the Utah court system, requested I run the bill this year. They seem to feel this will be the year we finally get it.”

The judgeship, while responsible for all three aforementioned counties, will primarily serve Washington County, Snow added.

The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week with a favorable recommendation going forward. All 11 representatives on the committee voted in favor of the bill with Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, absent.

This week the bill was read two times on the House floor and is slated for a third reading next week. Snow said he does not expect much debate on the House floor.

If passed in the House of Representatives, Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, is expected to run a similar version of the same bill in the Senate.

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Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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