U.S. District Court facing judge shortage in central, southern Indiana

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By Heather Collins

A shortage of judges in the United States District Court’s Southern District of Indiana has led to a judicial emergency. Citizens have been warned to expect longer-than-normal wait times as their cases go through the system or even as they attempt to reach the courts by phone.

The district covers approximately the southern two-thirds of the state. In a 12-month period, its weighted filings per judgeship was 915, which ranks the court first in the circuit and second in the nation in caseloads.

The district has felt the effects of a vacancy since June 30, 2014, when Judge Sarah Evans Barker took senior status, a form of semi-retirement with the option for reduced caseloads. The judicial emergency was worsened by the deaths of Magistrate Judge Denise K. La Rue Aug. 2 and Judge Larry J. McKinney Sept. 21. They were both serving the Southern District of Indiana through senior status.

Chief Deputy Clerk Alison Chestovich said the district is trying to function efficiently despite the emergency and ensure everyone gets their day in court. She said a long-term solution might include Congress adding more judgeships to the district.

Jay Kenworthy, a spokesman for Sen. Todd Young’s office, said Young has been working to quickly fill judicial vacancies.

“(Young) has also spoken with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley about the crisis in the Southern District and supports adding an additional judge,” Kenworthy said.

Judges from other districts and states have recently stepped up to help out. Judges from the Eastern District of Wisconsin and northern, central and southern districts of Illinois have been appointed to assist. Other judges from Indiana have agreed to increase their caseloads as well.

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