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Legal notice

Changes in store for superior court

Arizona Range News of Willcox, Arizona

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SIERRA VISTA — The Cochise County Superior Court is preparing to make several significant changes in the coming weeks in anticipation of an increased caseload following the creation of the new Arizona Department of Child Safety.

Last month, state senators gave approval for the new department, which has been tasked by Gov. Jan Brewer with, among other things, clearing out the thousands of backlogged complaints of child abuse and neglect that prompted the governor to abolish the former Child Protective

Services program in favor of creating this new, cabinet-level agency.

The resulting cases, called dependency cases, involve more stakeholders than other cases.

In addition to employees of state agencies, there are court-appointed advocates, attorneys for all involved and even the judge needs to have special training in order to hear the cases, said James Conlogue, presiding judge of the Cochise County Superior Court.

Up to this point, these cases were heard almost exclusively by one judge, Donna Beumler of the superior court's Division 6 in Sierra Vista.

However, on May 29, Conlogue issued an administrative order that will restructure the superior court in such as way so as to provide more flexibility in handling the increasing number of dependency cases, by bringing Division 6 to Bisbee and transferring Division 4 to Sierra Vista.

With more judges trained in handling dependency cases available in Bisbee, "moving it here will allow for more flexibility in coverage and so forth," Conlogue said. "When I want to set a hearing, it's very difficult, and the thought is that, if we're both in the same place, it's going to be easier to both schedule and cover them as we move along."

As Division 4 relocates to Sierra Vista, Judge Karl Elledge's criminal caseload is being redistributed to Divisions 2, 3 and 5 in Bisbee. Beumler will take on his former child support cases, while Elledge will take over the delinquency cases previously heard by Beumler.

"We're trying to even the caseloads as much as possible," Conlogue said.

Although these changes mean that more criminal cases will be assigned to three judges instead of four, Conlogue said increased efficiencies, thanks in part to early resolution court, will keep things from getting overloaded.

"I believe, because of our increased efficiency, we will be able to handle those just fine,'" he said.

New cases are already being appropriately assigned based on these changes, though the physical switching of places between Divisions 4 and 6 won't take place until the 4th of July weekend.

The anticipated increase in workload also means additional training for court staff, such as on the specialized case management system used for dependency cases, said Mary Ellen Dunlap, clerk of the superior court.

"It does entail a lot of the fine detail to get this done, but it's something that needs to be done and we need to be ready, as we're anticipating an increase" of these cases, Dun-lap said.

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Original Publication Date: June 18, 2014

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