New Castle News

District Judges

March 10, 2012

Rishel’s office would be eliminated under plan to realign county’s magisterial districts

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County is redrawing its magisterial districts to eliminate the office of David Rishel.

The move is a pre-emptive strike by county officials to head off what could be even more severe cutbacks imposed by outside officials.

An estimated 60 to 65 district judges — about 10 percent across Pennsylvania — are expected to be eliminated over the next six to 10 years as the result of the state’s budgetary shortfall.

The process already has begun, according to Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto.

“Everyone’s looking for ways to save money,” he said. “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the number of district judges can be reduced.”

To reduce the number of other judges, he said, would require legislative action.

“Some counties are using attrition, just not naming replacements or eliminating districts as terms expire, judges retire, or become incapacitated or die,” Motto said. He added that Gov. Tom Corbett has been asked not to fill judicial vacancies by appointments.

Motto said that he, court administrator Mike Occhibone and local district judges began working last fall on a plan to reduce the county’s judicial districts by one.

“We had hoped to retain all of our district judges,” Motto said. “We believed that under the guidelines, our numbers — the number of cases filed and the number of hearings held — would justify maintaining all five of our magisterial districts.”

However, even though the local magisterial district courts maintain an annual caseload of 3,577 filings, this is below the Fifth Class county average of 4,275 he said. Eliminating one office is expected to bump up the average caseload to 4,471 filings.

Lawrence is a Fifth Class County, a designation determined by population.

“We were told it is certain that we will lose one office — maybe two — based on the numbers.”

Motto said the county was advised to participate in the plan to determine which office will close.

“This would give us better control. If we made the recommendations ourself we would be more likely to get what we wanted. If we waited, the state would come in.”

Rishel’s office was targeted because he already has announced he will not seek another term and plans to retire.

At 63, Rishel is serving his fourth six-year term as district judge. He will be 68 when his term expires in 2017, but could leave office sooner.

Under the law, judges are required to retire at 70.

“With one judge gone, we are right on the numbers that the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts believes district court judges should have,” Motto said.

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