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 2019.
It appears more criminal cases were filed this year than in any other year since I have been judge.
• There were no jury trials in 2019 (there had been two in 2018 and six in 2017).
This is good news in terms of our budget; a jury trial can cost the taxpayers several thousand dollars (not including the cost of a court appointed lawyer for a defendant on trial). 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.
• Our largest expenditure this year relative to previous years was the cost of housing juvenile offenders.
A large number of delinquency cases were filed this year; we had budgeted $10,000 for housing of juveniles for the year, and actually spent well in excess of $20,000-$25,000 (bear in mind, it costs $120 per day to house a juvenile).
The most concerning trend in juvenile delinquency cases is the large number of young people who are using controlled substances (marijuana, painkillers, and even more powerful and dangerous drugs), and using vape devices to ingest controlled substances.
Drug offenses are also a problem in the adult criminal cases being filed, and the court is taking a number of steps to address this issue, which as we all know is a national problem.
• By way of background, my usual approach to drug cases is to cause the individual to seek counseling if they are only charged with possession of drugs. If a defendant is charged with dealing drugs, the court’s approach is punitive, in other words, drug users are more often than not assisted in finding help; while drug dealers are dealt with by giving them prison time.
If the court seeks to support a defendant with counseling and the defendant either fails to cooperate in counseling or re-offends, that individual is most often looking at extended jail time.
• Members of my staff and the sheriff’s department attended a one day seminary back in September addressing the needs of individual counties regarding treatment of drug users and services.
As a result, our county was notified just this past week of a grant of $60,000 which will be used for recovery services, training and support. We can also receive another $60,000 next year if we demonstrate that we are putting this initial grant to good use.
One of the primary uses will be “peer recovery”, that is counseling directly with a professional and the support of fellow addicts who can personally identify with the struggles of an individual user.
Our court is also part of the Southeastern Indiana Veteran’s Treatment court, where such peer counseling is also an important part.
• Many people may disagree with the approach to seek services for drug users. It should be noted that the law of the State of Indiana does not deem drug possession to be a major crime; possession of certain drugs is only a misdemeanor, and possession of methamphetamine is a level 6 felony (the lowest felony in our law) unless the individual possesses a larger quantity, in which case dealing charges come into play.
Our Indiana Supreme Court, Governor and other governmental officials have actively encouraged local community partners to seek remedies for the opioid crisis and are not generally in favor of “locking up” drug offenders, and due to jail overcrowding and cost overruns, discourage sentencing for users where alternatives such as counseling and intensive in or out-patient treatment is available.
• Also, I would commend the local law enforcement agencies who have identified and arrested a number of drug dealers in our community. Unfortunately it is my experience that an incarcerated drug dealer is simply replaced by someone else either within or outside our community. This is a problem with no forseeable end, but we as a court are doing everything we can to meet the problem head on.
My Probation Officers, Jeff Theetge and Natalie Williams, are active with Drug Free Switzerland County, and regularly put on programs at our schools for all grade levels to educate the students about the presence of drugs and the perils they present.
• Myself, Mr. Theetge, and Mrs. Williams recently met with representatives of the school including Mr. Hite and all the building principals to discuss issues that overlap between the schools and the court. One of our primary goals this year was to develop a better plan to address truancy issues and I believe we have a better solution than in the past, but it is still an issue.
• My Chief Probation Officer, Jeff Theetge, and Juvenile Probation Officer, Natalie Williams, have taken it upon themselves to provide as much drug education as possible to the children of our county. They have been to local schools to speak with and deliver educational materials to children from the third through the eighth grade with a goal of teaching children not only about the dangers of the drugs they will encounter but also effective ways to avoid them. As difficult as it might be for some folks to accept, we have to start educating children who are as young as eight and nine years old about the dangers they face from the drugs that are in our community; it would be difficult to count the number of people who, on a daily basis, are dealing with the problem and trying to lessen the effects drugs have on our community. We all need to support the police, teachers, counselors, and anyone else that is trying to rid us of the drug epidemic.
• Finally, 2020 will be an election year and the end of my second six-year term. I am using this article to formally announce my intention to seek re-election to the office of Circuit Court Judge, a job which I have enjoyed immensely. I believe that we have improved the delivery of court services to the local community over my two terms; have an extremely good working relationship with the Prosecutor’s office, defense bar, the clerk’s office, local and state law enforcement, and our schools. The cases I have decided and that have been appealed have been affirmed at approximately a 90% rate by the appellate courts of our state (which is above the state-wide average to my understanding). As a taxpayer I am aware that the court must operate as cost-effectively as possible so that our taxes can be used in areas where they benefit the most of our residents.
• I thank you for allowing me to continue to serve as your judge; I look forward to another productive year in the Court in 2020. 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 email@example.com.