HOLLIDAYSBURG - Nobody can predict the future, but Blair County's five judges met this week to contemplate what life will be like when Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter retires at the end of the year.
President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva said the judges spent hours reviewing every aspect of the court's operation and concluded that there would not be enough judge hours to efficiently dispose of cases in 2013 if there were only four judges hearing cases.
Carpenter, she said, has agreed to serve as a senior judge, which means he could handle some cases. Senior judges are limited to 10 days of work a month.
He will join former President Judge Thomas G. Peoples as a senior judge.
Peoples, in his seventh year as a senior judge, is expected to continue in that capacity through 2013.
Peoples has helped Blair County for the last couple of years by presiding over hundreds of PFA or protection-from-abuse cases.
Janice Meadows, the Blair County court administrator, said Wednesday that Carpenter will be working "full steam" through October. Time will then have to be taken to close his office.
In years past when a vacancy occurred in a judicial office, the governor, with state Senate approval, would name an interim judge. Meadows said in an effort to save money, interim judges are no longer appointed.
Voters in 2013 will elect Carpenter's replacement, who will then assume office in 2014.
Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle will complete her first 10-year term in 2013 and will be up for retention at the same time the voters are electing Carpenter's replacement.
Doyle said this week she will seek retention, noting, "I am very satisfied with the job."
Judges Daniel J. Milliron and Timothy M. Sullivan will be up for retention in 2015, when they will complete their first 10-year terms.
Kopriva confirmed last year that she will not seek election to a fourth term in 2017.
Progress in the courts
During the session this week, the judges also reviewed what has occurred in the court system over the last 15 years, including the establishment of four specialty courts and the development of a Children's Roundtable to bring youth-related agencies together "to create strong families and safe communities."
The Adult Parole and Probation Office also was restructured.
Other new efforts included:
n Instituting a restitution program for juvenile offenders.
n Uncreasing collections through the Costs, Fines and Restitution Office, resulting in $500,000 annually in county revenue and $300,000 yearly as restitution for victims.
n Using mediation to resolve civil court cases.
n Establishing a panel of pro bono attorneys to conduct mediation.
n Establishing an Office of Custody Management.
n Creating Credit Card and Mortgage Courts, and increased efficiency in handling driving under the influence cases.
n Using videoconferencing to dispose of cases.
Kopriva said Blair County is the busiest fifth-class county in the state, adding that is why the judges "have to start planning now to operate efficiently and effectively while down a judge."
The judges analyzed the effectiveness of pretrial status conferences. They decided to maintain such conferences because they have led to resolution in many cases, usually in the form of plea agreements.
Doyle shared an example of how the judges decided to change things to free up more time. They will now ask attorneys ahead of time if they are using a transcript from defendants' preliminary hearings when defense lawyers challenge the "sufficiency of the evidence" against their clients. If so, then the time needed for such hearings can be reduced to a few minutes as opposed to an hour, Doyle said. That change will free up time to hear other cases.
Kopriva said the judges reviewed many other indicators to determine if the courts are being operated efficiently. She said they are trying to prepare for one fewer full-time judge and not rely on "an accident or luck" to provide justice in Blair County.