As part of Colorado’s new Prompt Pretrial Liberty and Fairness law, officials with the Montezuma County Combined Courts are required to study the costs for holding weekend court services.
According to Senate Bill 19-191, passed in May, each judicial district must submit a plan to the Court Administrator’s Office for setting bond for all in-custody defendants within 48 hours of arrest.
The proposed new bonding rule is not mandated as of yet, but if it were, courts across the state would need to be open for bond hearings over the weekend for those arrested on Friday or Saturday in order to meet the deadline.
But who would pay the additional costs for keeping the courts open is a concern for rural courts with limited budgets, local officials say.
To discuss the matter, 22nd Judicial District Chief Judge Doug Walker on Tuesday met with judges, court staff, sheriff’s, public defenders and district attorneys from Montezuma and Dolores counties.
Officials said court scheduling is a carefully synchronized operation between defendants, law enforcement, attorneys, judges, jail staff, recorders, administration, the public, victims and witnesses.
To provide all that for the weekend will require additional funding, Walker said.
“We need a plan on how to deal with this,” he said.
He directed each court department to come up with cost estimates to put in a report to the General Assembly due Nov. 1. Any potential savings estimates shall also be provided, such as fewer jail beds needed from defendants bonding out quicker.
Using more audiovisual technology is an option being considered for the weekend court services. It would allow for defendants, victims, attorneys, judges and court administrators to conduct business from remote locations.
The teleconferencing technology is used in more urban areas of the state, but upgrades would be required for it to happen on a larger scale at the Montezuma County Combined Courthouse.
“Where the money would come from is the question. Is it another unfunded mandate coming down from the state, or will they provide funding?” said Montezuma County Commissioner Jim Candelaria.
It could be that an additional magistrate would need to be hired, officials said. Judges would have to rotate working weekends, as well as prosecutors from the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, court administrators and security.
Scheduling is further complicated if the defendant arrested Friday night is not sober by the time of the Saturday morning hearing.
To reduce the number of bond hearings and save money, it was suggested that personal recognizance bonds be handed out during jail booking for victimless crimes.
District Attorney Will Furse estimated it would cost his office an additional $25,000 per year in staff time to hold bonding hearings on the weekend. Monday bond hearings would have to be changed from the afternoon to the morning to better meet the deadline for those arrested Saturday.
Other departments are going to research the additional costs of working on the weekends. Two estimates will be figured, one for the standard courthouse operations, and one for conducting the additional court business using audiovisual technology.
Because bond hearings are public record, broadcasting the procedures may also be necessary.
“The technology is out there for all parties to appear remotely,” said public defender Justin Bogan, but there is a price.
Local officials agreed informing the Legislature of the detailed costs involved for weekend court is especially important for rural counties. Departments will meet again in August to report on cost estimates.