To some, the Lake County courts are more of a clunky, grinding series of rusted cogs than a well-oiled machine. Issues including a shortage of judges, repeated continuances and delays of hearing dates often combine with a lack of timely communications between prosecutors and defense attorneys to form an inefficient grind of cases through the courts, some observers say.
These matters all bear consideration as our courts struggle to become more efficient.
State figures clearly show Lake County is short on judges commensurate with the workload. Times reporter Sue Brown pointed this out in a recent article, noting the state's Weighted Caseload Measurement System shows Lake County is short three judges compared to its caseload.
However, with ever-shrinking local government budgets and taxpayer-generated revenues already spread thin, the county and clients of its court system shouldn't be expecting an increase in court personnel anytime soon -- unless the state mandates such personnel.
That doesn't mean there is nothing that can or should be done to increase the efficiency with which cases travel through the courts. And it's also a reminder of other fiscal efficiencies that could be adopted to potentially free up money that could be reallocated to deal with the caseload rather than keeping multiple lights on in multiple buildings.
Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defenders Council, said courtroom delays and continuances often are created when prosecutors don't share evidence in a case in a timely fashion before trial.
"Why should it take six months to get witness statements or police reports?" Landis questions.
"It should not take a year to resolve a felony and nine months to resolve a minor case with no factual disputes," he added.
Landis is right. Sharing discovery evidence in a timely fashion is essential to a fair trial and efficient case flow. There should be no undue delays for sharing this material from either prosecutors or defense attorneys.
And if the courts are looking for more money to deal with a burgeoning case load, perhaps its time to bite the bullet on another proposed fiscal efficiency. Past good government studies have suggested combining Lake County's four state court locations -- and 10 municipal courts -- into one centralized court facility.
Such a centralized facility already exists at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point. Shuttering and consolidating 14 operations into one would, in the long run, surely cut down on utilities, overhead and other costs associated with each free-standing court building or office.
Some constituents and government leaders in north Lake County have complained that a centralized court system in Crown Point would make access more difficult for north county residents lacking reliable transportation.
There is certainly a sound argument for growing our region's public transportation to address this concern. But our economy and region face many economic hurdles, and we can't keep using the same outmoded and inefficient strategies while resources remain static or dwindle.