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Blair County Court adjusts for 2022

Governor’s office says process to fill vacancy to begin soon

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Blair County Court, which is likely to start 2022 with four judges instead of five, is making transition plans that will reassign some judicial duties and introduce new scheduling procedures.

President Judge Elizabeth Doyle announced the pending changes this week, saying it’s a way to divide responsibilities in light of Judge Daniel J. Milliron’s pending retirement at the end of the year.

The responsibility for filling the judicial vacancy, created by Milliron’s retirement two years before his 10-year term concludes in December 2023, falls to Gov. Tom Wolf, with confirmation by the state Senate.

In an email to the Mirror, governor’s office spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger advised that the application process will begin soon for the pending vacancy.

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, told the Mirror that she will be monitoring the process and the progress. Having that judicial seat filled, Ward said, is important for county court operations.

Without knowing when someone may be appointed to succeed Milliron, the plan Doyle announced indicates that starting in January, cases will be assigned to specific judges upon being filed. While all judges will continue to handle civil and criminal matters, specific types of cases are to be directed to specific judges.

Doyle will assume responsibilities for DUI specialty court, DUI preliminary conferences and related proceedings, which Milliron now handles. Doyle will also address summary appeals, license suspensions and juvenile court proceedings.

Family law matters, including custody, will primarily fall to judges Wade A. Kagarise and Jackie Bernard. Kagarise will also be responsible for divorce, support, dependency and credit card court proceedings.

Bernard will preside over protection-from-abuse cases and cost-and-fines contempt court.

Judge Timothy A. Sullivan is also assigned to cost-and-fines contempt court, in addition to Drug Court, Family Treatment Court, truancy, juvenile court, dependency and orphans court matters.

When a fifth judge is appointed, some revisions to those assignments would be anticipated.

Also in making plans for 2022, Doyle announced that each judge’s office will begin scheduling of specific proceedings. The task has been handled by the county’s court administration office, but the proposed change, Doyle said, garnered support during a recent judicial strategic planning session

“This system gives individual judges the freedom and responsibility to manage their caseloads as efficiently as possible to provide the best service to litigants and attorneys,” Doyle said.

The county’s judges also endorsed the change in an explanatory letter they signed for distribution to the Blair County Bar Association.

“Time will be set aside on the individual judge’s calendar for criminal pretrial matters and motions, with each judge having a separate morning or afternoon (session) on different days of the week, so that the practitioners will not be expected to be in two places at the same time,” the letter stated.

Plans in 2022 also call for criminal jury selections and trial terms to rotate among the judges, with three judges assigned to each criminal jury selection.

Criminal jury trials, temporarily halted in 2020 and in early 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resumed in March with smaller groups of jurors reporting over several days to be considered for pending jury trials. Plans are being made to return to single day jury selections later this year and for all of 2022, Doyle said.

For the rest of this year, criminal jury trials are to be scheduled in August, October, November and December. A criminal court trial may also be scheduled from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 when a civil court trial would normally be scheduled.

In 2022, criminal jury trials are slated for February, April, May, June, August, September, October, No­­vem­ber and December.

“Changing and creating a new system is always challenging,” Doyle said. “But the judges and court administration have been working very hard and meeting frequently to work out the details.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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