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Court system needs are studied

February 26, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The 39th Judicial District of the Court of Common Pleas will add a fifth judge in 2010, but where that judge will preside and other needs of the court system, including juvenile justice, in Franklin County still are being studied.

Franklin County Juvenile Probation Department statistics show an average of 657 complaints received per year over the past decade. There were 642 complaints in 2008 and 620 delinquency hearings, according to the department.

The number of complaints was up from 583 in 2007, but well below the 776 filed in 2000, according to department statistics.

The majority of juvenile cases come before Judge Carol Van Horn, who addressed the Criminal Justice Advisory Board Thursday. She told the board Children and Youth Services also investigated more than 1,000 referrals of children without proper parental control, or who are incorrigible or truant.

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In those dependency cases, Van Horn wrote in her report to the board, the juvenile justice system has needs "similar to those of the criminal justice system, including adequate areas separating victims and offenders, sufficient conference areas allowing privacy, courtroom space to accommodate up to four parties with individual attorneys and attendant witnesses."

A hearing on the termination of parental rights can require an attorney for each parent, a guardian ad litem for the child and an attorney for Children and Youth Services, Assistant District Attorney Bret Beynon said. She echoed Van Horn's concerns about the need for more space for juvenile court.

Alternative programs, Van Horn wrote, resulted in a decrease in the number of delinquency hearings in 2008, but those hearings concentrated on more serious felony and misdemeanor cases.

Most of those juvenile cases are handled in Courtroom 4, where Van Horn presides, Court Administrator Neal Burkholder said. Van Horn's presentation to the board is part of the process of determining the future facilities needed for the courthouse.

"This is a piece of the entire picture, so people understand that there are more than criminal hearings going on in the courtrooms," Burkholder said.

The consulting firm Carter Goble Lee is working on a facilities study for the county, but is working in conjunction with the National Center for State Courts to formulate a plan specific to the court system.

While there are four courtrooms with the attendant spaces for judges' chambers, clerks, secretaries and other staff in the Franklin County Courthouse, a decision on where to put a fifth judge still is being worked on, Burkholder said. However, the 39th District also includes Fulton County, which has its own courthouse and courtroom facilities.

Placing a fifth judge permanently in Fulton County is an option, but one Burkholder says is hard to justify by the numbers. Last year, criminal and civil proceedings in Fulton County accounted for just 9.8 percent of the total of courtroom days in the 39th District, with a judge being sent over from the Franklin County Courthouse as needed, he said.

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