A plan to realign the district court system in Washington County over the next few years would eliminate two magistrates when their terms expire.
The new map released by Washington County court officials earlier this month would consolidate some communities into different districts and reduce the number of magistrates from 11 to nine if the plan is approved by the state Supreme Court after an upcoming term. of public consultation.
The proposal would effectively eliminate the districts where magistrates Gary Havelka and Joshua Kanalis currently serve, and cases in their communities would eventually be handled by neighboring magistrates.
Presiding Judge John DiSalle introduced the realignment plan Jan. 11 following several meetings over the past year with a judicial reinstatement committee. Court administrator Patrick Grimm said the changes were necessary to balance the workload and redefine boundaries that have remained virtually unchanged since 2002.
“We’re really dealing with a card that hasn’t been adjusted for a generation,” Grimm said. “The demographics, population and records have changed a lot over the past 20 years, especially over the past 10 years.”
The only significant change in 2012 was moving East Washington out of the City of Washington district and into one with South Strabane and North Strabane. The new map brings East Washington back into the city, while moving North Franklin to a district in rural western Washington County currently overseen by newly elected magistrate John Bruner.
North Strabane would merge into one neighborhood with Peters, which would be separated from its current configuration with several neighboring communities. South Strabane would join Canton in a single district under the supervision of magistrate Michael Manfredi. Bentleyville would move into magistrate Eric Porter’s Charleroi district, while Cecil would move into the district with Chartiers, Houston, and Canonsburg under magistrate James Saieva Jr.
The changes will be phased in over the next few years as the terms of district judges expire. Grimm said the map was designed after researching workloads, police department consolidations, and geographic and demographic statistics.
“There are a bunch of factors involved,” Grimm said.
Magistrates could also submit their own plan, Grimm said, and any changes could be factored into the final proposal.
“But it has to work within the given framework,” he said. “We’ll see if they have different ideas. When you look at the map, I think (the current proposal) makes sense.
The district of Havelka in northern Washington County would be consolidated with the McDonald-based district of newly elected magistrate Lou McQuillan. The Fredericktown district of Kanalis would be moved to Magistrate Curtis Thompson’s coverage area in southeastern Washington County. Havelka’s term is set to expire at the end of 2023, while Kanalis’ term is set to end in January 2026.
Kanalis said Thursday that district magistrates were invited to meet DiSalle and Grimm twice earlier this month, but only after the finalized proposal was brought to their attention. He said they weren’t aware of the changes until they saw the plan recently, but they might come up with their own realignment card, though they haven’t started formulating it yet. Kanalis added that they may have a statement on the situation at a later date.
Grimm said no office workers will be laid off after the consolidation, although they may be transferred to work in another district court. Some transplants could also be moved based on newly configured districts, although no decision has been made, Grimm said.
“We would have to have different offices,” he said. “We haven’t gone through that part yet. We want to see the parts of the proposal that are approved before going through this process. »
The full report on the proposed changes is available on the Washington County Courts website at www.washingtoncourts.us. Anyone from the public who would like to comment on the realignment plan can send written comments to Kathy Tarr, Assistant Court Administrator for Special Courts at 1 S. Main St., Suite 1003, Washington, PA 15301, or email kathy [email protected] All comments must be received by February 14.
Grimm said changes or modifications can be made, but court officials have until Feb. 28 to submit their plans to the Pennsylvania Courts Administrative Office. The state Supreme Court would then have to approve the plans or modify them before any changes are implemented.