Salt Lake County, three others on track to close justice courts
Salt Lake County leaders have alerted state court officials of their intention to dissolve their justice court putting the state's largest county on the path to become the first in Utah to do so.
The county was one of four justice courts Springdale, Clarkston and Davis County are the others Â to file notice of its intent to dissolve the court prior to the state's July 1 deadline to do so. By statute the courts could not close until July 1, 2014.
With the addition of new justice courts throughout the county, including in West Valley and Holladay, the county justice court has seen a drop in filings over the last decade: from nearly 25,000 total filings in Fiscal Year 2001 to less than 10,200 filings in FY11.
The County Council unanimously endorsed the issuance of the notice of intent on June 19 after Mayor Peter Corroon said the move did not automatically require the county to drop its justice court system.
"This gives us the ability to explore other options," Corroon said, from maintaining the status quo to entering interlocal agreements with courts in valley cities to having district court absorb unincorporated-area cases. "The law requires that we give two years notice. This [move] lets us look at it."
The county would need legislative approval to close if the cases were to be transferred to the district court.
While the county subsidizes its justice courts to a limited extent, Corroon said the decision to look at getting out of the system is not financially driven. It is more in keeping with the county's ongoing effort to leave the delivery of municipal services to local communities.
He said the county is committed to making sure its justice court's 15 employees "have jobs here or where the caseload follows."
Even with the declining caseload, the county's court remains one of the largest in the state.
"If they dissolve, that's a lot of cases," Assistant Court Administrator Rick Schwermer said.
Davis County's notice surprised court officials, as the county had in recent years entered into agreements with Farmington, Bountiful and Fruit Heights to handle their caseloads.
Davis officials in their notice said the court was losing money, though Schwermer said the court brought in roughly $3 million last year before expenses.
Fruit Heights leaders, who eliminated their court in the recent deal with Davis County, objected to the county's request to waive the two-year period to close the court.
"We have to look at what our options are and what it's going to cost the city," Fruit Heights City Manager Brandon Green said.
Clarkston, one of the smallest courts in the state, handles about 160 cases each year and had been operating at a loss for several years, Schwermer said.