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Final budget bill saves satellite court in Dubois
Feb 21, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
The Wyoming 9th Judicial District Circuit Court satellite facility in Dubois apparently will stay open.
State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, amended the Legislature's general appropriations bill twice to maintain that tribunal for at least one more year.
Lander-based Judge Robert Denhardt presides over the Dubois tribunal, which holds court in the Dubois town council chambers.
Responding to demands for budget cuts, the Wyoming Supreme Court last summer proposed closing the Dubois tribunal along with those in Powell and Lovell by July 1, 2013. The Supreme Court said those cuts would have saved the judiciary $40,000 a year.
Those closures seem unlikely to happen now. Bebout added a paragraph in the general appropriations bill that would keep the satellite courts open.
Gov. Matt Mead was expected to act on the bill Thursday. He could sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.
The senator was the chairman of the joint interim appropriations committee and made the change before the legislation was introduced to the general session.
The addition reads, in part, that the "satellite court shall be closed before April 1, 2014."
Another part of the added provision eliminates a vacant position within the judiciary.
"I took that money to keep the courts open," Bebout said.
The Wyoming Senate and House of Representatives passed the bill. The legislative houses amended the bill somewhat, but neither changed the bill to close the satellite courts.
The joint committee charged with harmonizing the two versions, of which Bebout was a member, left the Riverton senator's changes intact, and the House voted to approve the compromise bill Feb. 15.
Talks with chief justice
Bebout said his provision resulted from a negotiation with Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite.
The Riverton senator's original attempt to keep the Dubois and other satellite courts open did not settle everything, however. In its budget proposed this summer, the Supreme Court said it would eliminate a clerk's position at the Dubois court by July 1.
The general appropriations bill as introduced did not specify the judiciary had to fund the Dubois clerk position, leaving the court's future, or at least its direction, in question.
The clerk processes paperwork necessary for the court to function.
Denhardt said he asked Kite about the clerk's position, but she told him it still might be taken away even with the introduced bill.
Denhardt said Kite talked about using a video link to connect court customers with a clerk and having Denhardt simply hold court in Dubois twice a month.
On Feb. 8, Bebout introduced and the Senate adopted an amendment to the general appropriations bill that aims to guarantee the Dubois court keeps a clerk.
The new addition reads, "and no positions associated with the specified satellite courts shall be moved or eliminated."
The ultimate future of the Dubois satellite remains murky.
Bebout's first addition only maintains the satellite courts for one more year. How they stay "open" could also change.
His provision directs the board of judicial policy and administration before the end of the year to investigate, "operational changes that would improve efficiency or reduce costs of the satellite courts in Powell, Lovell and Dubois."
"The Supreme Court will have until the end of this year to come up with a plan to keep it open using technology," Bebout said.
He added he believes any final agreement will have to satisfy the Dubois and Fremont County communities.
"Recognizing I'm only one of 90, but that's the way I feel about it," Bebout said.