Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Judge says video arraignments key to increasing court efficiency

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/24/2013

When James Campbell, Ottawa Municipal Court judge, laid the numbers on the table for Ottawa city commissioners Monday, the evidence was overwhelming.

The court’s case volume is on the rise and shows no sign of slowing down, Campbell said.

When James Campbell, Ottawa Municipal Court judge, laid the numbers on the table for Ottawa city commissioners Monday, the evidence was overwhelming.

The court’s case volume is on the rise and shows no sign of slowing down, Campbell said.

Based on its volume through May, the court is projected to handle 2,369 cases in 2013, up from 1,769 cases in 2012.

To help handle that case volume in a more efficient manner, the court has asked for an increase in its computer equipment allocation from $614 in 2013 to $4,726 in 2014 to install equipment that would allow video arraignments for prisoners making first appearances in court.

“We would have the same equipment that is used in the [Franklin County] District Court,” Campbell said. “This would allow us to be more efficient.”

The judge explained that now a bailiff has to pick up a prisoner at the Franklin County Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, and drive four blocks to the courtroom at the Ottawa Law Enforcement Center, 715 W. Second St., Ottawa, for an arraignment that typically takes between 90 seconds and five minutes. Then, the process is repeated over again for the next prisoner.

In addition to improving efficiencies, the judge said video arraignments also provide for a safer means of conducting the court appearances because the prisoners remain in the jail, rather than having to be transported to the courtroom.

Campbell attributed the increase in case volume to stepped-up police enforcement and a growing population.

The judge likes to study Gardner in nearby Johnson County, he said, because that community had a lower case volume than Ottawa did a few years ago, but now the community has swelled to a population of 20,000 with about 2,400 cases last year.

“I think it’s only logical that Ottawa will follow a similar growth path,” Campbell said.

The judge said he thinks Ottawa’s case volume is comparable to other communities of its size across the state, though he noted with some surprise a huge disparity in the case volume between the communities of Winfield and Arkansas City — both of which are almost identical in population to Ottawa.

“These two towns, geographically, are only 15 miles apart, yet Winfield only had 697 cases [in 2012], and Ark City had 2,922,” Campbell said. “I was really surprised by that.”

To which Mike Skidmore, city commissioner, jokingly said: “So, are you trying to tell us Winfield has a lot of nice people?”

Campbell’s report noted Ottawa is the 28th largest city in Kansas and Ottawa Municipal Court has the 36th largest number of case filings in Kansas.

Collections — court fees, fines and judgments — are projected to increase slightly to about $407,000 this year, from to $405,000 in 2012, according to Campbell’s report.

Campbell noted the court’s proposed budget expenditures of $165,318 for 2014 almost mirrors the court’s 2013 budgeted expenses of $162,319 — with the new equipment for video arraignments accounting for the slight increase.

But the judge did note that he would be adding one extra session later this month that would help increase those revenue projections.

“The police wrote so many tickets during the Click It or Ticket campaign [188 citations — 161 for seat belt violations — between May 20 and June 2] that we had to add an extra [session],” he said.

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