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Dubois Circuit Court considered for closure as budget cuts loom

Aug 3, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The state legislative judiciary committee's meeting in Cheyenne on Monday included discussion on a recommendation to close the 9th Judicial District's satellite Circuit Court in Dubois.

Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn S. Kite included the recommendation by the Board of Judicial Policy and Administration in her documentation to the committee for its meeting.

The proposal to close the Dubois Circuit Court and satellites in Powell and Lovell would help achieve the mandated 8 percent budget cuts for state government as instructed by Gov. Matt Mead.

While the move to close the three sites would save an estimated $40,000 a year, the proposal generated a strong protest from Lander Circuit Judge Robert B. Denhardt.

"If the Dubois court were closed, the citizens with legal problems requiring a court would be forced to drive 75 miles to either Lander or Riverton," Denhardt wrote to Kite and other Wyoming Supreme Court justices July 19.

Denhardt noted similar travel and time issues for Dubois-area law enforcement, including Wyoming Highway Patrol, the five Fremont County Sheriff's deputies and the state game warden.

"The cost in lost productivity to each of these individuals, if a cost benefit analysis were to be done, would far exceed the cost to the State in funding the branch office. The State and the County would pick up the additional costs of travel and time lost for the State and County employees," Denhardt stated.

"The citizens of Dubois would pay the price in cost to them in loss of time, 2.5 hours of travel time alone, round trip, fuel costs, and loss of earnings by missing work a minimum of about 3.5 hours, if their case is quickly heard," the judge wrote.

Kite provided the proposed budget reductions, which include the Wyoming Supreme Court and district and circuit courts, to the state judiciary committee.

"As you are aware, most of the Judicial Branch budget consists of salaries," Kite stated. "Historically, the Judicial Branch has not been required to apply budget reductions to salaries because the legislature has recognized that we need the personnel we have to function and provide judicial services to Wyoming citizens."

Kite said the budget for the state's court system is bare-bones.

"Our workload studies, updated annually and closely monitored by the Supreme Court, demonstrate we are operating under lean conditions already, and reductions in staff could have drastic consequences on the delivery of justice," she stated.

A 4 percent annual decrease in the budget would result in eliminating seven positions in the Supreme and Circuit courts and at least half of a position in the district courts, Kite stated.

Without cutting positions, Kite suggested decreases that include closing the three satellite circuit courts "without drastically impacting our operation."

Kite said the judicial board recommended closing the three sites by July 1, 2013, "because case loads did not justify separate offices, and citizens throughout the state have similar distances to travel to reach their circuit courts."

"We realize that those actions will not be welcomed by the local communities, and we regret having to take them but believe those citizens will still be served in a similar fashion as the rest of the state," Kite said.

Denhardt said the Dubois closure would be a detriment to Fremont County's court system.

"The Dubois cases will have to go somewhere, either Lander or Riverton. Both courts from a work load to personnel standpoint are maxed out, and that is the view of the judges who work there and not someone who is out of County of out of State," he wrote.

"In view of how small the Judiciary's budget is to the whole of the State's budget and how, in my view, no fat to our budget, cutting for cutting sake becomes injurious to the local populous. The money it takes to keep the Circuit Court in Dubois is minimal," Denhardt said.

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