Rory Eugene Zimpelman was named the August 2019 Kosciusko County Veteran of the Month at the county commissioners meeting Tuesday. Pictured (L to R) are: Rich Maron, Kosciusko County Veterans Affairs officer; Bob Conley, commissioner; Zimpelman; Cary Groninger, commissioner; and Brad Jackson, commissioner. Photo by David Slone
Rory Eugene Zimpelman was named the August 2019 Kosciusko County Veteran of the Month at the county commissioners meeting Tuesday. Pictured (L to R) are: Rich Maron, Kosciusko County Veterans Affairs officer; Bob Conley, commissioner; Zimpelman; Cary Groninger, commissioner; and Brad Jackson, commissioner. Photo by David Slone
Superior Court I Judge David Cates encouraged the Kosciusko County Council Monday night to reconsider not approving any additional probation officers for 2020.

He said they will become important with regard to “Criminal Rule 26, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2020. That is coming right up.”

He was supported by the other judges present at Monday’s meeting.

Cates made his comments during budget hearings before the council. The wage committee made a non-binding recommendation to the council on new employees and wages, which also didn’t include any new probation officers.

According to information online at www.in.gov, Rule 26 states, in part, that “if an arrestee does not present a substantial risk of flight or danger to themselves or others, the court should release the arrestee without money bail or surety subject to such restrictions and conditions as determined by the court except when: (1) The arrestee is charged with murder or treason. (2) The arrestee is on pre-trial release not related to the incident that is the basis for the present arrest. (3) The arrestee is on probation, parole or other community supervision.”

Cates said the probation officers are the only people trained in the county who can do the testing “with regards to pre-trial release, and that will be required of felonies, felony defendants, in this county moving forward.”

Council President Sue Ann Mitchell responded, “I think I can address the Rule 26. I think our agreement was that you do it the first few months and then come back if you really need a position. We just can’t – with all the positions we had to add – we just didn’t feel like we could keep adding and adding and adding, so that’s the reason why that was excluded. We’re not saying that absolutely ‘no, we’re not giving you one’ if it’s going to cause a total bottleneck and create issues. Obviously, we’re smarter than that, maybe, but we also want to get a flavor for how it’s worked.”

She said if the courts really see they need a new position, the council is not discouraging them from coming back later and asking for it.

Superior Court II Judge Torrey Bauer later said, “Judge Cates talked about the new pre-trial release coming. We’ve got 2,500 – on average – misdemeanors alone. We’re going to need a new probation officer because our staff can’t do that. There’s just too many. Too many. And that will also usually impact finances especially Superior Court II because of the income we can generate, create through bonds, bail bonds. That’s all going to go away. We’re not going to have it. Bond money is primarily used to fund our drug/alcohol program, and that’s going to dry up.”

Bauer said he annually puts together a letter about the income generated and fees recovered by the court. With implementation of the Odyssey system – which keeps track of court cases and fees – “I would need a full extra staff person to do nothing but collect fees. In the way we used to do it, under the old system, we had it running pretty smoothly, so we pretty much had to nix that,” he said.

He said now all they can do is give people 90 days to pay costs and fees and then have the county turn them over to collections.

“So the recovery of those monies is going to drop significantly,” Bauer said.

Mitchell asked him if he could use another program to try and collect money. Bauer said with the Odyssey system, everything has to go through Odyssey and it takes a number of clicks to do anything.

“So we’re not going to be able to generate the income for the county we have been able to, and then when the new pre-trial release rule kicks in, it’s going to cut even more money out of the picture,” Bauer said.

Money also collected from court fees and repayment of the pauper counsel fees also will dry up because of Rule 26, he suggested.

In light of that information, Mitchell asked if any councilman had any interest in adding another probation officer. Councilwoman Joni Truex made a motion to approve another officer to “do what we can to correct the problem before it becomes a major problem.” Councilwoman Kim Cates seconded the motion, but it failed 3-4 with only Cates, Mitchell and Truex voting for the additional adult probation officer.

Before the vote, Superior Court III Judge Joe Sutton said the judges “can set a bond if you do the assessment at the jail within 48 hours. This new Rule 26 says you don’t have to post a bond and everybody’s (own recognizance), but for murder and treason. And if you want to set a bond for these other offenses that are out there, you have to do an assessment at the jail under the state’s parameters, and the courts are not allowed to do that assessment. You have to do it fast, and it has to be done by somebody, and a lot of that is going to be weekend stuff.”

He said Rule 26 is going to define what the seven or eight questions are that are going to be asked in the assessment. It won’t be up to judges, and they and their staff can’t do the interviews. He said he thought it was probation or Community Corrections who would do the interviews.

“This Rule 26 is going to be devastating to a lot of – the bond schedules are out the window. The cash bonds are out the window. There are no bonds. You might as well give them traffic tickets for felonies,” Sutton said.

Kim Cates also asked Judge Cates, her spouse, about the status of video conferencing for the courts.

Judge Cates replied that video conferencing is a concept the Kosciusko courts were looking at to reduce the transfers of inmates to the courts, specifically for hearings in which a public defender need not be present, such as initial hearings.

“A lot of counties do that by video conference. We’re investigating that, we’re looking at that from a standpoint of capability,” Judge Cates said.

About two years ago, he said he had a quote but it would have cost the county $50,000 per courtroom. “I didn’t even bring that to you. I wasn’t really considering that amount. I think there has to be a more reasonable way of doing that,” he said.

Judge Cates said the courts and the prosecutor’s office are still investigating video conferencing. Prosecutor Dan Hampton has volunteered to investigate how other counties are doing it. Cates said Noble and Elkhart counties are doing it, and Kosciusko County can but “we’re just not there yet.”

Mitchell said, “I know when we all sat down – the courts, the prosecutor, the clerk, everybody kind of all on the same page – we all said that was a push that we needed to get going on. So we would strongly encourage you, whoever is doing what – I think (county administrator) Marsha (McSherry) is trying to push the ball, as well. So if we can get something going with that, that may eliminate a transport officer, it may eliminate all kinds of stuff.”

Judge Cates said it would improve security, to which Mitchell agreed.