Kentucky Court of Justice
Jefferson District Court reorganization designed to reduce wait times, court overcrowding
Overview of Jefferson District Court changes
Jefferson District Court Overview Sheet (51KB - PDF)
Background on Jefferson District Court reorganization
Jefferson District Court Reorganization Background (2,632KB - PDF)
Program from news conference about Jefferson District Court reorganization
Jefferson District Court News Conference Program (502KB - PDF)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For the first time in more than 30 years, Jefferson District Court is changing the way it handles its criminal dockets to reduce court overcrowding, shorten wait times and provide greater continuity between judges and defendants. Details of the reorganization, which will be effective Aug. 1, 2011, were announced at a news conference today.
Jefferson district judges began working with attorneys, police officers and other partners in the justice system in 2008 to design a reorganization plan. The plan is intended to alleviate overcrowding and wait times, enhance judicial accountability and better balance court dockets.
“After two years of careful planning and often lively discussion, Jefferson District Court will be getting the overhaul it needs,” Chief District Judge Sean R. Delahanty said. “Our judges accepted the challenge to reform the system and I’m especially pleased that this plan has the support of our partners in the legal and law enforcement communities. We’re working hard to prepare everyone for the transition and are looking forward to giving people a much improved experience when they come to Jefferson District Court.”
Those who took part in the news conference were Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr., Supreme Court of Kentucky Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, Judge Delahanty, Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk David L. Nicholson, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell and Jefferson County Sheriff John Aubrey.
“As the commonwealth’s only truly urban court, Jefferson County is unique in the volume and scope of the cases it handles,” Chief Justice Minton said. “The logistics of District Court are especially challenging. The district judges recognize these complex issues and have approached this reorganization with an open mind and innovative spirit. They collectively redesigned the work of their court so that it will operate more efficiently.
“Their tremendous undertaking has brought us to this day. I’m greatly encouraged by what has been accomplished in Jefferson County because of a willingness to take on this problem and find solutions. These changes will benefit the citizens of Jefferson County who use this system and will benefit courts throughout the state that can learn from this model.”
District Court currently has a rotating docket in which 17 judges are assigned to handle cases in specific jurisdictions, such as civil dockets, traffic dockets, felony dockets and probate dockets. Of the criminal cases, 90 percent are scheduled for 9 a.m., resulting in a crowded courthouse and a morning docket that sometimes runs over and disrupts the afternoon schedule. In addition, the caseloads under this system are unbalanced, with traffic dockets far busier than civil dockets, for instance. Generally, the judges each rotate to a different docket after six months or a year of service in a particular docket.
Under the new model, 10 district judges will be assigned to a general criminal docket in which they will all hear cases involving traffic offenses, felonies, misdemeanors, warrants and nonsupport. The criminal cases will be divided alphabetically among the judges, with each judge having the same volume of cases. The other seven district judges will handle the civil dockets.
The judges overseeing the criminal dockets will split the number of daily cases almost evenly between the morning and afternoon to reduce overcrowding in public waiting areas and the wait times for people with court hearings. With the new reorganization schedule, 55 percent of criminal cases will be on the morning docket and 45 percent on the afternoon docket.
The new plan for judges to hear all types of criminal cases will make it possible, in some instances, for one judge to address multiple charges for the same defendant. With the current docket, a defendant charged with a felony and a separate traffic offense would need to appear before one judge for the felony and another on the traffic offense.
Once the reorganization takes effect in August, the district judges will monitor the new system to determine its effectiveness and consider other changes that could improve efficiency.
District Court is the court of limited jurisdiction and handles juvenile matters, city and county ordinances, misdemeanors, violations, traffic offenses, probate of wills, arraignments, felony probable cause hearings, small claims involving $1,500 or less, civil cases involving $4,000 or less, voluntary and involuntary mental commitments and cases relating to domestic violence and abuse. Appeals from District Court decisions are made to the local Circuit Court.
Note: Effective June 8, 2011, District Court will handle small claims involving $2,500 or less and civil cases involving $5,000 or less, per enactment of Senate Bill 108.
Administrative Office of the Courts
The AOC is the operations arm for the state court system and supports the activities of nearly 3,300 court system employees and 403 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the Kentucky Court of Justice, the AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget.