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MERCER COUNTY Law group seeks to add 4th judge



Published: Wed, May 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The bar association endorsed its judiciary committee's unanimous recommendation.

MERCER -- A fourth common pleas judge is needed in Mercer County, the county bar association has said.

At a special meeting Monday, the association adopted its judiciary committee's recommendation, which called for adding the fourth judge.

The committee made its unanimous recommendation after studying the issue for two months at the request of Mercer County Common Pleas Judge Francis J. Fornelli.

"It was a multitude of factors, all of which favored the need for a fourth judge," Atty. John C. Reed, bar association president, said Tuesday.

The items considered in the association's conclusion were the court's growing workload and statements by the common pleas judges and Court Administrator Peter Morin, Reed explained. Reed said about 60 of the association's 130 members showed up for Monday's meeting, but he wouldn't provide a vote tally.

Third position

Judge Fornelli, who said last month that the need for a fourth judge was evident 10 years ago, was elected in 1981 to fill the county's third judicial position, which the state Legislature had created the previous year.

Fornelli, who is the court's president judge, said it is "unconscionable'' that the court is running two to 21/2 months behind on what he called nonemergency issues.

In recent years, Fornelli said he has been spending two weeks of his vacation time at the courthouse just trying to catch up on child custody cases. He said the current $10 million interior courthouse renovation provides an ideal opportunity to add a fourth courtroom.

The county district attorney's office handled more than 2,000 criminal cases that ran through the court system last year, and District Attorney James Epstein said the first quarter of this year was already 150 cases ahead of the same period last year.

Ideally, Fornelli said the state Legislature would create a fourth common pleas judgeship for the county in time for judicial candidates to run in November 2003, but state Sen. Robert Robbins of Greenville, R-50th, was less optimistic, saying it could take two or three years or longer to get the legislation passed.




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