East Chicago grapples with court rumors

2013-10-24T21:30:00Z 2013-10-24T23:39:07Z East Chicago grapples with court rumorsPAUL CZAPKOWICZ Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
October 24, 2013 9:30 pm  • 

EAST CHICAGO | City Council President Lenny Franciski issued a news release Thursday to address rumors that the City Council is attempting to close down the City Court.

Franciski directed all questions regarding the release to council attorney Steve Bower, who said the council is not trying to shut down the court, but simply is asking City Court Judge Sonya Morris to regulate her budget and see that the number of court employees corresponds more closely with the court's caseload.

"The council had reduced the budget of the court to kind of coincide with all of the other reductions that have been done throughout the various departments in the city," Bower said.

"When the council got involved in it, it found out that the judge had an adult probation fund that in August of this year had over $165,000 in it," he said. "And it's continuing to grow to the tune of $15,000 to $17,000 a year because she wasn't using the money in the adult probation fund to pay any of her expenses. The drawback is that it put undue burden on her general fund."

Bower said while the City Council does not have the right to tell Morris how to spend her funds, it does have an obligation to set the amount of her budget.

"The cost of running her court is way out of whack with what the cost (is) of running other courts of comparable size in Lake County," he said.

Bower said that in fall 2012 the City Council reduced the judge's budget by $83,000, which, he said, was about 8 percent of what her general fund budget was.

"She almost immediately filed a lawsuit against the council claiming that she couldn't run her court unless she had the full amount," he said.

Bower said the council has heard rumors — which it believes are coming from court employees — that the judge has indicated because the City Council won't provide all of the money she has requested, the court will close in November or December.

"The council is saying because she will not manage her court, use available funds, she's shutting it down," he said.

Bower said the City Court's 2014 budget will be considered at a Friday morning Finance Committee meeting.

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