The 32nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri, which is made up of Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties, has recently learned that it is one of three circuits among the 45 in the state recognized as the most efficient in case management for fiscal year 2003.
Presiding Circuit Judge William Syler said he was notified in August that the circuit will receive the Daniel J. O'Toole Award at the Judicial Conference of Missouri in St. Louis at the end of this month.
Other circuits winning the award are the 10th and 14th judicial circuits.
Each courthouse in the district will receive a plaque.
The O'Toole award is named for the judge who was the first chairman of the Time Standards Monitoring Committee. To qualify for the award, a circuit must achieve at least five of the 10 case-processing time standards and must be within 5 percent of achieving the remaining standards.
According to the Office of State Courts Administrator, the 32nd circuit met seven of 10 standards and were within the margin for the three other standards.
Time standard limits are established according to category -- domestic relations, felony, civil and criminal -- and serve as guidelines for the time various kinds of cases should take to handle. According to a Supreme Court statement, half of a circuit's civil cases should be disposed within 12 months, and 90 percent should be finished within 18 months. Some cases, however, require more time, and the time standards are meant to be tools to achieve overall goals of efficiency, productivity and quality of justice rather than as absolute requirements.
Syler said the O'Toole award is not the result of a competition with other circuits. It is a reflection of how well the circuit was able to manage its cases in the past fiscal year.
"It means we are one of the best circuits in the state for disposing of matters," Syler said. "It is a credit to the clerks, judges and lawyers here. Our lawyers refer to it as the 'rocket docket.'"
Syler said that a combined effort of all the lawyers and clerks in all three counties made it possible for the 32nd Judicial Circuit to stand out.
"We have a nice work ethic among our lawyers and clerical staff," he said. "The judges try to keep things moving."
When the O'Toole award was implemented in the early 1990s, the circuit was one of the first recipients, but it hasn't received one since. Syler said that doesn't mean that the district dropped in quality.
"We've always been near the top," he said. "We don't have complex litigation and we're able to resolve jury cases in a day or two. It's a tough award to win."
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