(WASHINGTON) - Daviess County Circuit Court Judge Greg Smith appeared before the Daviess County Council Wednesday morning seeking the council's approval for the establishment of a new position in his court.
Judge Smith was accompanied during the presentation by Greenwood, Ind., resident Joe Jean, assistant deputy director of the State Child Support Bureau.
Blake Chambers, of the Washington Times-Herald reports, aided by a written report prepared by Jean's department, the two men addressed the council regarding the county's current child support collection procedures, and went on to ask that the council consider hiring a 4-D Referee.
A referee is "a kind of magistrate, or part-time judge," Smith said. The referee would hear cases and make findings, then submit those findings to the judge for review and the entry of an order should the judge determine an order is warranted. A party who disagrees with the findings can appeal directly to the judge.
The report circulated among the council members indicates that Daviess County already is doing a good job collecting child support, but according to Jean, who has previously assisted other Indiana counties in this process, the creation of the referee position "would open up the docket to hear more child support cases and help families' cases move faster."
In asking for an initial appropriation of $35,000, Smith stressed that the new position would benefit local children and families. For the past three years, child support collections in Daviess County have been averaging around $3 million, but Smith feels the county can do even better.
"Right now Daviess County is one of the best in the state for a county of its size, but we don't want to lose that," Smith said. "Because of other demands on the court we're only allowed one morning a week."
Should a referee position be created, two days a week could then be allocated to support cases.
The person filling the position of referee must be a member in good standing of the Indiana Bar and would conduct business either in the Circuit Court room or in the Commissioners room. Smith told the council some members of the local bar have already expressed interest in the position.
When questioned by council members about funding for the position and necessary support staff, Auditor Gail Doades and Smith explained that the County currently has over $175,000 in four different funds, all of which by law must be used for child support collections. which would includes the paying of a referee should one be appointed. The funds on hand consist of "incentive monies" the county has accumulated over time as a result of what Smith called its "outstanding" prior collections record.
If the county continues to do a good job, the federal and state 4-D agencies will reimburse the county 66 percent of the cost of the referee, the court reporter, and the bailiff.
Smith said after the meeting that the referee could exercise jurisdiction in small claims cases, infractions, some misdemeanors, and also city ordinance violations - something Smith said he has discussed with Washington Mayor Joe Wellman.
Wellman and the city council are currently considering ways to improve and enhance the enforcement of city ordinances so the hiring of a referee, Smith pointed out, could eventually have benefits for the city as well as the county.
After discussion, the council voted to authorize Smith to move forward with developing a budget for the new position but told him they could not take action on his request for an appropriation until it had been published. Doades told Smith if he would provide her a written request by May 23, the appropriation could then be considered at the council's June meeting.
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