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Pa. counties may get fourth judge

January 27, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Voters in Franklin and Fulton counties may vote to elect a fourth judge this year if the state Legislature comes through with its promise to fund 27 new Court of Common Pleas judgeships across the state.

State Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin, and State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, both said Monday that they support the legislation.

Judge John R. Walker, president judge of the 39th Judicial Circuit which covers Franklin and Fulton counties, has written to Punt asking for a fourth judge for the circuit, Punt said in a statement Monday.

The Franklin County Commissioners also have endorsed the move, even though it will cost the county another $300,000 a year to provide space and staff for a fourth judge.

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The state pays the judges' salaries of about $106,000 a year each. It also reimburses Franklin County for about $80,000 a year in judicial costs, said Warren Elliot, chairman of the County Commissioners. He said Walker asked the commissioners to support the request for a fourth judge.

"The judge told us the caseload is growing. There's more crime now and the court is beginning to experience a backlog. He wants a fourth judge to move cases through the system faster," Elliott said.

The House passed a bill to add 23 new judges during the final moments of the 1996 legislative session, but the measure failed in the Senate, Fleagle said.

"I've been working with Judge Walker and the County Commission for two years to add a fourth judge here," he said.

The 39th District's third judge was added in the late 1980s, said William A. Sheaffer, Franklin County Court Administrator.

In addition to Walker, Judges William H. Kaye and Douglas W. Herman serve in the 39th District.

If the appropriation passes both houses, and the governor signs it by Feb. 20, candidates for the new judicial seat could be on the ballot in time for the May 20 primary.

He said temporary room for a fourth judge could be found in existing courthouse space, either through renovation or by moving out other offices.

"We need a fourth judge," he said. "We're getting by right now, but things will be critical if we don't have one in the next three to four years."

Common Pleas Court judges in Pennsylvania are elected to 10-year terms. After that, they run unopposed, with voters simply deciding whether they are to be retained in office.

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