Declining population within the Fourth Judicial Circuit is going to force some changes in how judges are assigned within the nine-county circuit, Chief Judge Gene Schwarm said.

    Population within the circuit dropped below 245,000 during the 2000s, Schwarm said. That means retiring Associate Judge James Harvey cannot be replaced once he leaves the bench Aug. 19.

    “The Associate Judges Act allows us to have one associate judge for every 35,000 people,” Schwarm said. “Once Judge Harvey gave me his retirement letter, I requested permission to fill the vacancy.

    “We had eight associate judges, but to be entitled to eight after the 2010 census, we needed a population of 245,001,” Schwarm added.

    But the circuit’s population dropped to 244,361, placing it under the threshold needed to be able to replace Harvey.

    “Nobody loses their job, but when a vacancy is created, we could not fill it,” Schwarm said.

    The circuit — consisting of Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Clay, Marion, Shelby, Clinton, Christian and Montgomery counties — received an eighth associate judge in 2005 because of Drug Court initiatives planned for several counties, including Effingham. Harvey founded the Effingham County Drug Court. Other counties have since followed suit, though several smaller counties have combined drug courts because of smaller populations.

    Schwarm said Harvey’s retirement won’t affect the operation of Effingham County’s Drug Court. In fact, he said, the loss of an associate judge slot won’t significantly impact court operations in the circuit.

    “I feel confident that we’re going to be able to have an adequate number of judges to cover our system with no delays in cases being heard,” he said.

    Schwarm said the circuit’s trial judges may have to cover multiple counties during their six-month rotations. Moreover, he said, counties might have to tighten up their drug court requirements because of fewer judges.

    “We really don’t have any choice about having drug courts because they have been mandated by the state,” he said. “But we might have to limit people trying to get into drug court.”

    The Fourth Circuit was one of three circuits that lost enough population during the last decade to lose an associate judge. The others were the Ninth Circuit in northwestern Illinois and Cook County, which includes Chicago and is its own circuit.

    Two circuits on the outskirts of Chicago showed dramatic population increases, enabling the appointment of new associate judges. Those circuits are the 12th (Will County) and the 16th (Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties).

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