While some Utah County attorneys have seen their caseloads rise in recent years, such as those with the Utah County Public Defender Association, the Utah County Justice Court has seen the opposite.
For several years, the county Justice Court in Provo, which handles low-level crimes and infractions for unincorporated areas of Utah County, has seen a drop in the number of court cases filed, according to a court administrator.
The Utah County Commission took notice of this and cut the court’s 2020 budget by $239,812, a 16.2% drop, during its Dec. 17 meeting, the biggest dollar-amount decrease approved for next year.
“Their case rate has fallen,” Commissioner Bill Lee said in an interview. “It (has gotten) to the point to where you’re wondering, ‘At what level is funding appropriate?’”
According to Lee, the budget cut will not lead to anybody in the court losing their job. Due to the caseload decrease, the court currently has several unfilled clerk positions, which is where the cuts will apply.
For Utah County taxpayers, this cut means their money won’t be going toward a service that doesn’t need it.
The Justice Court, which is currently staffed with two judges, is responsible for dealing with Class B and C misdemeanors and petty offenses. The court has jurisdiction over unincorporated communities in the county like Springdell, as well as cities like Eagle Mountain that don’t have their own justice court.
When the county sheriff or Utah Highway Patrol give out citations in the county, those cases go to the Justice Court. The court also offers a traffic school and lets county residents file small claims.
Lee said the commission has monitored staffing levels and caseload decreases for years, making him confident that cutting the budget won’t impact the court’s ability to function.
“This is not something that we have just looked at this year,” said Lee. “It has been one we have kept our eye on now for a number of years.”
As they worked through the county’s 2020 budget on Dec. 11, all three commissioners agreed that making cuts to the Justice Court was appropriate.
“This is an area I feel that we’ve got to find some savings simply because of the decrease in (case) numbers,” Commissioner Nathan Ivie said.
While it hasn’t been approved, Lee said the commission is also considering reducing the court to a single judge if caseload levels continue to fall, something that would have to be approved by court administrators.
“We’ll have to continue monitoring that and looking at that to see what can be done on a personnel basis,” he said. “We’d be looking at a judge and seeing if we’re appropriately staffing at that higher level.”
The commissioner said he appreciated the Justice Court keeping staffing levels where they are and not filling positions that weren’t needed.
“They’ve been extremely responsible,” Lee said. “They didn’t go out there and just hire more people to be on board with them. Because they could (have), because it was in the staffing plan.”