A part-time employee was approved to assist the 8th Judicial District Judge’s office with extra duties due to COVID-19 and indigent defense. Hopkins County Commissioners Court approved the request to be allowed to employee additional staff and a budget amendment to cover the cost.
Hopkins County Auditor Shannah Aulsbrook presented the request on behalf of 8th Judicial District Eddie Northcutt, who was unable to attend because he was overseeing jury selection for a trial slated to begin Tuesday at Hopkins County Civic Center.
Indigent defense costs and additional work required for COVID-19 measures required for court operations were cited as reasons for he request.
Coordinating indigent defense attorneys, scheduling and coordinating Zoom meetings with attorneys, defendants and the court have become necessary as fewer people are allowed to be in the district courtroom at a given time due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Previously, the court could set a heavy docket, then work all day and sometimes into the evening with a full courtroom to get through all of the cases. Now, due to COVID-19 restrictions and the size of the can be scheduled on a docket at a time, Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom noted during the Nov. 9 Commissioners Court session.
The extra work has been especially taxing on Northcutt’s court coordinator, who Aulsbrook noted for the last 3 weeks has still been at work when she left at 6 p.m.
She said e-filing has added additional work for the court as well. There are more documents the court coordinators is having to scan and upload into the system that she previously has not been responsible for.
Newsom said Northcutt requested funding to help with the increased work load, then for the court to consider potential long term funding for the position in the summer during the next budget cycle. Giving the district judge a part-time person should help move dockets more quickly, which in turn would help out at the jail.
Sheriff Lewis Tatum noted that there are 40-50 inmates in custody waiting for a court date on motions to revoke probation. These defendants cannot be released on personal recognizance or probation, but are required to go before a judge for disposition. An extra person who could help with the work in the judge’s office could allow more people to come before the judge quicker.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Wade Bartley asked if there was any CARES funding currently available to help with costs related to the extra work due to COVID-19.
Aulsbook said funding for the position will need to come out of general or contingency funds. However, there is a possibility that the county could receive some reimbursement for some of that amount from an indigent defense grant the county is applying for. The county paid out over $100,000 last year for indigent defense, and received $32,000 from the grant, officials noted. Aulsbrook said when she was filling out the application, it did ask questions that could result in additional funding due to COVID.
Currently, the CARES Act funding the county has qualified for is already spoke for. However, if any additional federal funding related to COVID-19 becomes available which the county and court are eligible to apply for, the funding would be sought.
Newsom proposed, on a temporary basis, the hiring of an additional employee for the 8th Judicial District Judge’s Office, for up to 30 hours a week. That would mean the individual would only be part-time and so the individual would not be eligible to apply for certain county benefits afforded to full-time employees.
The Commissioners Court, comprised of Newsom, Bartley and Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Anglin as Precinct 1 Commissioner Mickey Barker and Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Price were both absent for the meeting, approved the additional part-time employee as proposed.