We applaud President Judge John Cascio of Somerset County for eliciting serious discussion on his county’s magisterial system as it pertains to police protection.

And while he has the ball rolling, we believe it would make perfect sense for neighboring counties, including Cambria, to become a part of the debate.

Cascio’s prime concern is late-night arraignments tying up valuable police hours off the streets.

That should be a worry for every citizen.

But we see his raising the issue as a great opportunity to also discuss the ongoing high costs of the magisterial system in several counties, even as their populations and funding are declining.

In fact, Cambria County officials are currently planning for the elimination of two of the county’s 10 districts. President Judge Timothy Creany, who heads the Cambria system, is looking at realigning boundaries to cut costs.

That makes sense.

Our Bernie Hornick reported last week that Somerset’s Cascio has issued new rules on office hours and presented them to his county’s prison board.

A key proposal under the plan is that people arrested after 10 p.m. would be held at the county jail until their arraignments the following day at 8:30 a.m.

That, it was explained, would allow police to more quickly return to the streets, rather than waiting for an on-call district judge to perhaps get out of bed, perform an arraignment and set bail.     

One exception is that major crimes such as homicides would continue to be addressed without delay.

Opponents of Cascio’s plan, including some criminal lawyers, told Hornick of several concerns, including that the change will infringe on the rights of suspects, at times causing them to be in custody hours longer than they now are.

William Carroll, the county’s chief public defender, responded: “In general, it would be more beneficial than detrimental.”

He added, “Innovations to make the system work more smoothly are always welcome, and I can see a positive side to this. And I also can see a negative side.”

Carroll said he’s willing to give it a chance to see how it works out.

Exactly. Perhaps some of the lawyers’ concerns can be alleviated through continued discussion, or even addressed once the new rules are in place and issues surface.

Meanwhile, Cambria County has budgeted $1.62 million, or about $160,000 for each of the 10 offices, for 2012, our Sandra Reabuck has reported.

The $84,774 salary and benefits for each district judge are funded by the state.

The county pays for office employees, their benefits and any rental and utility costs.

About 30 employees work in the 10 offices.

A lot of money is involved and some cuts are projected.

Months ago, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille began asking counties to look at eliminating magisterial offices because of budgetary constraints.

Cambria’s Creamy and others have been conduct-ing public meetings to get input.

The proposed realignment is to be completed by the end of February and presented for public display for 30 days prior to going to the Supreme Court.

Court Administrator Brad Cober of Somerset County said most counties in Pennsylvania – including Westmoreland – already have in effect the delayed-arraignment system set up by Cascio.

Obviously, a lot of issues are on the table for the magisterial system. To their credit, Somerset and Cambria officials aren’t dragging their feet in addressing them.

 

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