County awaits word on court


The bill to create a new circuit court district for Switzerland County has been resurrected, and after passing out of a conference committee last week, the measure has now passed both houses of the state legislature – and is awaiting the signature of Governor Mitch Daniels.

The creation of the new circuit court has been on a roller coaster ride through this legislative session; with the language being in the bill that was introduced by the Commission on Courts, only to be stripped from the bill by the legislators who were looking to slash anything that would cost the state additional revenues.

After the bill went to the conference committee – a mechanism used when the House of Representatives passes a bill with certain language; and the Senate passes the same bill, but with different language. When that happens, a committee made up of representatives and senators gets together and decides what the final version of the bill will look like, and if they can agree, then the measure goes back to both houses for a final decision.

Leading the fight for the Switzerland County circuit were State Representative Bob Bischoff, who pushed the final version through the House with a nearly unanimous vote last Wednesday; and State Senator Jim Lewis, who got the measure through the Senate last Thursday.

“We’re now waiting on the Governor,” local attorney Monica Hensley said. “The House now has until March 21st to send its bills to the Governor’s office; and after they arrive, he has seven days to decide what he’s going to do with them.”

Governor Daniels has several choices:

– He could sign the bill into law, creating the 91st Circuit Court.

– He could veto the bill, which would essentially end the discussion for this year, because the legislature is now out of session; so there would be no way to override the veto.

– He could do nothing. If Governor Daniels doesn’t sign the bill within the seven day period, but he doesn’t veto it, either, then the bill would become law without the Governor’s signature.

At the latest, Switzerland County will know if it has a new circuit court by March 29th.

The language of the bill has gone back and forth since the proposal was first introduced. Originally, the new circuit would have created four new positions.

In Switzerland County, the bill would have created the office of County Judge; County Prosecutor; and Assistant County Prosecutor.

In Ohio County, the bill would create the position of County Magistrate, which would be a post appointed by the Dearborn-Ohio County Circuit Court Judge. This would become necessary because in creating the new Switzerland County circuit, the position of Superior Court Judge for Switzerland and Ohio Counties is eliminated.

During discussions that ultimately led to the court being put back into the bill in the conference committee; it was decided that the circuit would have its own judge and prosecutor, but the office of assistant prosecutor was eliminated.

If the bill does become law, it will also mean some changes in the upcoming election here in the county.

The four people now on the primary ballot for Superior Court Judge: Democrats Greg Coy, Lisa Rosenberger, and Lane Siekman; and Republican Anthony Sabo; no longer will have an office to run for.

Lisa Rosenberger and Greg Coy will presumably be candidates for Judge of the Switzerland County Court; while Lane Siekman and Anthony Sabo could be appointed magistrate of the Ohio County Court.

According to the law, if the bill is passed, both political parties in Switzerland County will hold special caucuses to appoint a person to run for the office of Judge of the Switzerland County Court in the November election. Each party will also elect a person to run for the office of Switzerland County prosecutor.

Chad Lewis, currently serving as prosecutor for Switzerland and Jefferson counties, will only be serving Jefferson County as of January 1st, 2009.