As Judge of the Switzerland Circuit Court, I would like to submit to the citizens of Switzerland County the following report on the activities of the Circuit Court for the year 2017. This was one of the court’s busiest years since I have been on the bench.
First, the court held six jury trials this year (in the years 2014-2016 the court only had 1-2 jury trials each year).
In January, a jury found Ronald Stewart guilty of two counts of child molesting. Mr. Stewart’s convictions were upheld on appeal; he received a sentence of 32 years which was reduced by the appellate court to 26 years for technical reasons; he will be eligible for release from the Indiana Department of Corrections in April, 2039.
In June, a jury found the defendant not guilty of child molesting in the case of State v. Tingle.
In July, a jury found Donnie Ketterer Jr. not guilty of one count but guilty of a lesser count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated; he received a sentence of 60 days, the maximum for a class C Misdemeanor; all the time was suspended.
In August, a jury found Jennifer McAlister guilty of Possession of a Legend Drug; she was sentenced to two and one half years, none of which was suspended, and will be eligible for release in June, 2019.
In September, a jury found the defendant not guilty of child molesting but guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in the case of State v. Duckworth.
Finally, in December, a jury found Michael Cox guilty of felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated; he is scheduled to be sentenced in January, 2018.
I wish to thank all the citizens of this community who were called for jury duty and appeared; over 300 people were called and 63 wound up serving on juries. Our community is full of good people willing to give of their time and fulfill their civic duty, and I am personally grateful to each and every one of them.
Our caseload was up significantly in all areas in 2017; one of the most notable is in the area of “CHINS”, short for “Children In Need of Services.”
These are cases where children are removed from their parents’ homes due to the inability of the parents to properly care for the children. In past years, our court has averaged less than 20 such cases in a year; in 2017, however, nearly 50 such cases have been filed, almost all of which were due to drugs being found in the homes of the parents.
Although most folks are aware of the effect drugs have on individuals, most are not aware of the damage to the families, especially children, who find themselves placed with relatives or in foster care. The drug problem our society faces today does not exclude Switzerland County, and the strain on the court system, the foster care system, the department of child services, and most importantly, the children themselves, has long since passed a critical point.
I am informed, for example, that nearly half the newborn babies at the King’s Daughters’ Hospital in Madison in 2017 were born drug exposed. In 2017 we had multiple drug overdose deaths (thanks to our outstanding police and emergency medical systems, the number was much lower than it could have been). Even one overdose is too many; the pain suffered by the families of those lost to drugs is immeasurable.
I take personal responsibility for such things; as a judge my goal is always to protect those endangered by drugs and drug dealers, and it is also my goal that next year there not be a single overdose death in our community.
We do have a group called ‘Drug Fee SC’ in our county that has a number of people seeking solutions on the local level for the drug epidemic. In our court, we currently order and provide counseling services through Community Mental Health, and also access to a “GED” program at the TEC Center. Statistics show that the more education an individual has, the more likely they are to find stable employment and the less likely they are to resort to crime. The drug problem remains, however; we need to educate our children, no matter how young, on the terrible results drugs can bring into a person’s life and hopefully over time overcome this terrible problem.
Budget wise, we did stay slightly under budget for the year due to our ability in the court to transfer funds from accounts which hold non-tax dollars. And again this year I will be transferring funds to the county general fund from the probation users fee fund, the probation administrative fee fund, and the supplemental public defender fund, all of which help pay the cost of operating the court while lessening the burden on the taxpayers of our county.
The total amount transferred from those three funds in December 2017 was $40,000. We are also trimming some of the “fat” from our budget, including reducing our book budget by nearly $14,000; and our credit card fees, which we use to collect payments from probationers, are being eliminated.
I did want to note two significant changes in our staff.
Cheri Weales retired in May after having been a county employee for over 30 years. While we miss her presence and the hard work she put in for the citizens of the county, we did make a change to the way we staff the court.
Natalie Williams is now our juvenile probation officer, having served in that capacity for 11 years in Ripley County. Her knowledge and experience of all things related to the juvenile law, and the law in general, have been invaluable to the court, especially considering that our juvenile delinquency filings have increased this year to the highest they have been in several years.
Finally, I wish to thank all the law enforcement agencies that support the court and help us do the business of the court in a safe environment. Also, I want to again thank the County Commissioners for always being attentive to our needs here in the court and to the County Council for funding the court in a way that allows our court to function efficiently, cost effectively, and most importantly in a way that complies with the highest Constitutional standards.
I thank you for allowing me to continue to serve as your judge; I look forward to another productive year in the Court in 2018. Although I am not allowed to comment on any pending cases, if there are any questions, comments or general concerns, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
W. Gregory Coy,
Judge, Switzerland County Circuit Court