An expanded Jackson County Courthouse Annex will mean more cases filed in Independence will be heard there, officials said Monday.
Most of the county’s circuit court judges and associate judges sit at the downtown Courthouse in Kansas City, but over the years the county’s population has shifted to the east, and officials for years have said more judges are needed in Independence balance that out.
Thirty percent of the judges sit in Independence, but last year 41 percent of all Circuit Court cases in the county were filed there. About one-fifth of civil and domestic cases filed in Eastern Jackson County end up being transferred to Kansas City, and that’s even with the judges in Independence handling caseloads at least one-third higher than those of judges in Kansas City, said Presiding Judge Marco A. Roldan.
“We’re basically busting at the seams in Eastern Jackson County,” Roldan told county legislators.
Last year the county completed renovations of the Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square and moved several county offices there from the annex, which is on Kansas Avenue just off the Square.
Meanwhile, county officials have been setting aside money for expansion and renovation of the annex. In addition to adding courtrooms, there will be a larger juror assembly area. As it is now, some potential jurors end up standing around when the chairs run, Roldan said.
County Executive Mike Sanders said the county plans to put the renovation work out for bid in June, award the contract late in the summer and be done by late 2015 or early 2016.
“That means this facility can serve the needs of Eastern Jackson County ... for at least the next 20 to 40 years,” he said.
The expansion means room for four judges:
• One circuit court judge would move to Independence from Kansas City immediately, Roldan said.
• The addition of a second circuit judge would need approval by the Missouri General Assembly.
• A third judge would hear probate cases.
• The fourth courtroom? “It’s going to be up for argument,” Roldan said, adding that he favors adding a circuit court judge.
• The juror assembly room would double as space for the county’s municipal court cases.