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Courthouses feel sting from state cuts

Tricia Gravley, an employee with the Kandiyohi County Court Administrator's Office in Willmar, works Tuesday at her desk. The office plans to reduce its Friday hours. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The public will have slightly less time to pay fines and take care of other legal business beginning July 10.

Court administration offices in the 13 counties of the Eighth Judicial District, including the office at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in Willmar, will close for business at 2 p.m. every Friday starting July 10.

Courtroom activities will continue through the end of each Friday's workday, which is normally 4:30 p.m. in most of the 13 counties, and the public will be allowed into the courtrooms. But the court administrator's office in each county will be closed, the counter will be shut down and telephones will not be answered after 2 p.m., said Tim Ostby, Eighth Judicial District administrator.

The Eighth Judicial District faces a reduced operating budget as a result of judicial branch budget reallocations and legislative budget reductions, said Ostby.

Because of the budget reduction, the district has reduced staff hours from 40 hours per week to 37.5 hours per week for the district's 54 non-exempt employees (those who are paid by the hour), said Ostby. There are 81 total employees in the district.

The mandatory reduction amounts to a pay cut of 6.25 percent and affects mainly the clerical staff, he said.

The hourly cutback does not affect the 27 salaried judicial staff, court reporters and law clerks. But those positions have also been affected by cutbacks, according to Ostby.

"We laid off three employees in the district this spring. We have several positions that have been vacated because of people moving on to different jobs that we have not filled,'' Ostby said Tuesday.

He said the district probably has the highest percent of vacant judicial staff -- court reporters and law clerks -- in the state. The district has 11 judges, who are served by six law clerks, and the district has nine court reporters serving nine judges. The normal, he said, is one court reporter and one law clerk per judge.

"We've determined to cut back in judicial staff, so we're keeping many positions open and over the years we've cut back. We have eliminated court administrator positions. We are now down to five (county) court administrators for 13 counties. There used to be one in every county,'' he said.

In addition, Ostby now serves as administrator of the 10-county Seventh Judicial District, headquartered in St. Cloud, as well as heading the Eighth District. The Eighth District covers Big Stone, Chippewa, Grant, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Pope, Renville, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wilkin and Yellow Medicine counties.

"We've cut back on management. It's been across-the-board reduction, and the functions of district administration in finance and human resources are also being shared between the two district offices,'' Ostby said.

"This is something we would prefer not to do. But because of the cutbacks that we've experienced in the Eighth District, this is the way that we have chosen to manage our cut,'' he said.

"We've tried to run an efficient operation and the cutbacks that we implemented over the past several years, the public really hasn't noticed. But this will probably be the first cutback that the public will notice that there's a difference.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150