Superior Court had balanced case load in 2013

COLUMBIA CITY — Case loads for the courts of Whitley County remained consistent in 2013 compared to previous years.In Whitley County Superior Court, which has Judge Doug Fahl on the bench, there were 2,297 total filings in 2013.That number compares to 2,295 in 2012. Of those, there were 821 criminal cases in 2013. There were 865 in 2012, but only 736 in 2011.“We are down a little bit from last year,” he said. “We had a big jump two years ago.”The Indiana Supreme Court monitors the case loads of each court in the state. A weighted case-management system is employed, so certain types of filings are counted differently.“A small claim is counted as only half of a divorce,” Fahl said. “And a misdemeanor is only half of a felony.”Fahl acknowledged that not every case is the same, but he said the system is in place for balance, so that courts that oversee more time-consuming hearings do not have too many.“If you look at the sheer numbers, then my numbers are greater (for Superior Court),” Fahl said. “But when you look at the weighted case management, that number keeps us approximately even.”This creates a system where Fahl, as superior court judge, presides over divorce cases, civil cases and many criminal hearings.The weighted case management system has caused some types of hearings to shift location.Fahl said that check deceptions are the only misdemeanor offense that is filed in Whitley County Circuit Court. He explained that the reason for that was it most precisely balanced the load between the two courts.Even though the case management system attempts to balance, nothing is perfect. Fahl said occasionally what appears to be a non-complex misdemeanor case ends up taking more time than expected.Similarly, theoretically-simple parts of a divorce case can take a great deal of the court’s time.“It’s hard to pin down sometimes what will take a lot of time and what won’t,” he said.On the other hand, some of the felony traffic offenses that come before Fahl do not require as much time.“There’s sometimes very little defense,” Fahl said of cases involving a person operating while under a lifetime driver’s license suspension.Of the 821 criminal hearings that came before Fahl in 2013, there was a range of 508 misdemeanor cases to 11 Class C felonies.Because Fahl oversees traffic violations, those Class C felonies were all traffic-related offenses.“I do all of the traffic cases, except for OWI-causing death,” he said.Even though they are criminal cases, Fahl said OWI offenses are most common in Whitley County because of the type of population.“In a community of law-abiding citizens, OWI is common,” he said. “That’s because people start by doing something (drinking) that isn’t illegal. Then from there, they make a poor judgement. They aren’t bad people, they just made a bad choice.”The variety in hearings creates more work for Fahl, but he says it is enjoyable.“It makes the job more interesting,” he said. “But it also makes it more challenging. It requires me to do more education, and I require the attorneys to educate me (if necessary).”