Central Nebraska would add a County Judge under a bill heard this week in the Legislature

Since the COVID-19 pandemic many courts across the country have dealt with major backlogs for...
Since the COVID-19 pandemic many courts across the country have dealt with major backlogs for trials and other cases. However, the Rockingham County Circuit Court has fared better than most.(WHSV)
Published: Feb. 4, 2023 at 4:43 PM CST
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - The Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard testimony Friday on a bill that would add a county judge to the judicial district serving Buffalo and Hall counties.

Current state law sets the number of county judges in Nebraska’s Ninth District, which contains Buffalo and Hall counties at four. LB81 introduced by Grand Island Senator Raymond Aguilar, would increase that number to five according to the Nebraska Legislature’s online update.

Aguilar said the juvenile justice system in central Nebraska, which can be an important turning point in determining the direction of a young person’s life, is facing significant needs. LB81, he said, would be an important investment in assisting Nebraska’s youth.

Judge Arthur Wetzel of the Ninth District spoke in support of the bill at Friday’s committee hearing. The needs of juveniles in Hall County currently are not being met sufficiently, he said, but the area does not meet the population threshold for a separate juvenile court.

“We have an overwhelming juvenile population that unfortunately continues to grow and the depth of their crimes and behaviors continue to grow,” Wetzel said. “We’re hoping that if LB81 is passed, the new judge can do … primarily juvenile work to help us provide a better service to the juveniles of Hall County.”

Jason Grams, president of the Nebraska State Bar Association, also spoke in support of LB81. Grams said a recent report shows that the Ninth District needs 4.43 judges to address its current caseload. This shortage negatively impacts juveniles waiting for court processing and also creates a considerable cost to counties, he said.

“Providing an adequate level of judicial resources is essential to effectively administering justice and providing meaningful [court] access to the citizens of Nebraska,” Grams said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill. The 108th Nebraska Legislative Session continues Tuesday.