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Seneca supervisors hear how discovery changes are impacting local courts

Justices make another request for part-time clerk to help with discovery workload

– By Josh Durso

On Tuesday a local judge was back before the Seneca County Board of Supervisors requesting additional funding to deal with changes that stemmed from the bail reform initiative passed into law in 2019.

Originally, Waterloo Judge Conrad Struzik, who was representing the county’s justices, came to the board last fall with a request of $50,000 for three part-time clerks. The clerks would help with administrative hurdles that the judges ultimately have encountered since the new bail reform and discovery law changes took hold on January 1st.

The supervisors declined to move on that plan, and took the ‘wait and see’ approach.

Fast-forward to February, and just a month after discovery and bail reform changes took effect, and Struzik says the justices are feeling the crunch.

The ask was reduced, but Struzik was back before the supervisors requesting $25,000 for one part-time clerk. That clerk would work through centralized arraignment, where most of the problems are focused.

“We’ve done more arraignments in a shorter amount of time now,” Struzik explained. To be exact, 74 arraignments over 36 shifts, a sharp increase over last year’s numbers.

“We’ve had judges that are there from anywhere from two hours to five or six hours,” he explained. Arraignments are one challenge, but the paperwork that must be completed and complied with before the appearance is the real issue.

The justices believe having a part-time clerk dedicated to it will make the entire arrangement more efficient for those working behind the scenes.

“There are nine forms that judges have to fill out before they can even take the bench and do arraignment,” Struzik explained. “After that, they’ve got to come back, finalize the forms, and then email them off before they can leave.”

The justices feel it’s an unfair process.

“The clerk could get there half an hour before the judge, get the paperwork started,” he continued. “The judge would review it, make sure it’s correct, do the arraignment work, and make sure everything with the clerk is finalized, and move forward.”

The three justices present at the session were describing a ‘basic’ set of circumstances. If an order of protection is involved, or some added component to the entire arraignment process, it becomes even more complex.

While the supervisors were initially resistant to the idea of spending more money on a state minded change, they agreed to hear it at committee again. The clerk would work four hours a day, Monday through Friday, and would help ease the burden created by the state changes.