A proposed Kentucky Judicial Redistricting Plan would, if approved, create a new Family Court for Grayson County and add Hancock County to the 46th Judicial Circuit/District, currently consisting of Grayson, Breckinridge, and Meade counties.
Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton, Jr., recently introduced the first Judicial Redistricting Plan Kentucky has seen in decades, and the Kentucky legislature will consider the plan during the 2017 regular session of the General Assembly.
If passed, the plan will take effect in 2022, when all Circuit Court, Family Court and District Court judges are on the ballot.
“I am pleased to announce that the Judicial Branch has fulfilled its directive from the legislature to produce a plan that will update Kentucky’s circuit and districts to reflect current judicial workloads,” Minton said. “Changing boundary lines and reallocating resources is never easy, which is why judicial redistricting hasn’t been addressed for so long. The fact that we’re making this announcement today is a major achievement, and I appreciate the judges’ support of what is a tremendous milestone for the Kentucky Court of Justice.”
Minton said he looks forward to presenting the Judicial Redistricting Plan to the legislature early next year.
The proposed plan will do the following:
* Move a limited number of counties from one jurisdiction to another.
* Combine circuits and districts that are currently different and reduce the number of circuits by one, from 57 to 56.
* Bring Family Court to all but 10 jurisdictions.
* Reallocate existing resources by moving judges from circuits with lower workloads to areas of greater need.
*Calculate the appropriate number of judges by using a 1.4 implied judicial need as the cutoff to determine where more than one judge is needed.
Local effects would include the addition of Family Court to Grayson County, as well as the addition of Hancock County to the 46th Judicial Circuit/District, to which Grayson County belongs.
The judicial circuits and districts have remained largely unchanged since the passage of the Judicial Article, which created Kentucky’s modern court system in 1976.
Since that time, Kentucky has seen significant changes in caseload and population.
The goal of redistricting is to ensure that Kentucky’s judicial resources are allocated appropriately, which means adding resources in jurisdictions with heavy caseloads and reducing resources in jurisdictions with lighter caseloads.
The Judicial Redistricting Plan process began in 2014 when the General Assembly included language in the Judicial Branch budget bill requiring the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to complete a judicial workload assessment study as the basis for a redistricting plan.
Minton asked the legislature to include that language as support for an evidence-based approach to redrawing circuit and district boundaries.
Unlike redistricting for legislative boundaries, judicial redistricting cannot be accomplished by making changes based solely on population.
The judicial process impacts commonwealth’s attorneys, as well as judges, and it is the type of caseload—not population—that ultimately determines the workloads of circuit, family, and district judges.
The AOC’s first step was to engage the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to measure judges’ workloads statewide through a Judicial Time Study.
For four weeks in the spring of 2015, 95 percent of the state’s circuit, family, and district judges logged how they spent their time handling cases and taking care of judicial duties outside of court.
This exercise provided the number of minutes it takes to complete specific tasks at each level of the court system.
Using this data, the NCSC compiled a time study report that included case weights and measured workloads for each phase of a case and its jurisdiction. These case weights were then put into a formula to determine the implied judicial need for each jurisdiction.
The AOC and NCSC followed up the Judicial Time Study with site visits to circuit, family and district judges in several jurisdictions.
The site visits helped identify challenges that judges face in handling different types of cases and variations in trial court work across the state.
Smaller “Delphi” groups of circuit, family and district judges also reviewed the data for accuracy.
That process took about 18 months and provided the first critical information: weighted caseloads and implied judicial needs.
The data on weighted caseloads and implied judicial needs were evaluated by the Kentucky Judicial Workload Assessment Committee (JWAC), a group created by Minton to work closely with the NCSC on this project.
The JWAC is comprised of judges from all four levels of the court system, circuit court clerks, commonwealth’s attorneys, and legislators from throughout the state.
The NCSC compiled the weighted caseload information and implied judicial needs into a report that was vetted by the JWAC members and the Supreme Court.
Minton then presented the Interim Report of the Kentucky Judicial Workload Assessment to the legislature in February 2016.
The second phase of the project required redrawing circuit and district boundary lines and reallocating judicial resources using the data collected from judges statewide.
JWAC members have met three times since May 2016 to discuss and review various redistricting plans. At the committee’s last meeting in October 2016, the members voted on a plan that was then submitted to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.
In early December 2016, the Supreme Court justices approved a plan based on the one recommended by the JWAC. Minton announced that plan on Dec. 20, 2016.
The Judicial Redistricting Plan will be formally presented to the state legislature in early 2017.
Reach Matt Lasley at 270-259-9622, ext. 2015.
©2017 the Grayson County News-Gazette (Leitchfield, Ky.)
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