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Posted on Sun. Aug. 10, 2014 - 12:32 am EDT

State’s courts left to fill void as many retire

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Among them, there is more than 100 years of knowledge walking out of the Allen County Courthouse door.

Knowledge about who said or did what to whom, where the files are kept, what judge ruled on what case in what year, and how to get people to the right room for the right case at the right time – all the stuff that keeps the Superior Court system humming along largely without incident.

Friday marked the last day on the job for Brenda O’Riordan and Deb King. Over the next two weeks, Jerry Noble, Gloria Perez and Rose Moya will also leave.

Circuit Court is losing a few as well, including Nancee Linn, the former Adams County clerk who has helped Judge Tom Felts keep his side of the building running smoothly.

Most of the retirements are the results of changes in Indiana’s Public Employee Retirement Fund, which reduced the interest rate on its annuities, both going forward and retroactively. That means around the state many public employees are putting in their papers earlier than they wanted in order to try to save retirement money in the long run.

According to the state’s website, Indiana’s Public Employee Retirement Fund, known as PERF, had been using an interest rate greater than what the system was expected to achieve. So last year, with the blessing of the state legislature, the Indiana Public Retirement System planned a drop to a rate of 5.75 percent. That appears to be down a full percentage point, according to the state’s website.

Additional step-downs in interest rates are scheduled for 2015 as well.

For employees with a lot of time in the system, they feared a precipitous decrease in their annuities when it was time to cash them in.

So they are leaving, all over Indiana municipalities and counties.

Chief Judge of Allen Superior Court Wendy Davis said the department members of the staff have such a deep understanding of the judiciary, especially Noble, that it will leave a noticeable hole.

Friday was a bittersweet day on the third floor of the Allen County Courthouse, as attorneys, courthouse staff, police officers and others who may have ever encountered King and O’Riordan made their way by their offices to say goodbye.

A lion’s share

Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck believes no one person is irreplaceable.

But they found when they filled her position, it’s going to take 1 1/2 people to do the work his longtime court reporter Deb King, 59, has been doing for the past few years.

She’s been sitting in front of his bench, fingers on a keyboard, for his entire tenure – since 1988. King, an Avilla resident, does a ton of work outside the courthouse as well, going home in the evening and transcribing the hearings to prepare the cases for appeals.

Hired in the Allen County Clerk’s office 35 years ago, King started out handling child support, went to marriage licenses and eventually to family court. She moved to Superior Court in 1983 under Judge James Jackson.

“I love my job,” she said Wednesday. “I love what I do. I’m sad to leave it.”

Over her decades in the courthouse, King saw her workload continue to increase. Surbeck said they noticed how much it had changed when they tried to hire her replacement.

“Each (change to the job) is relatively minor, and relatively doable, and then all of a sudden there’s this huge job that nobody wants,” he said. “We’re having to replace her with a person and a half.”

Surbeck knows King has been doing a lot of little things for him over the years, taking care of problems before he noticed them.

“She does a lot of stuff, and she does a really great job of it,” he said.

He figures he’ll learn just how good she was over the next few weeks after she’s gone.

Heart of the hub

If the criminal justice side of the courthouse has a hub, it’s Room 306 – Central Scheduling.

That’s where every single felony filing comes every time the case is scheduled for a hearing. And Brenda O’Riordan’s fingers enter whatever it was that happened into the case management system.

Like King, O’Riordan, 59, began her career with Allen County in the late 1970s. For her it was at what was then Wood Youth Center as a child care worker.

In 1990, she left family court and moved to central scheduling where she has been keeping tabs of what judge has what day or hour open that matches all the attorneys for whatever hearing is necessary.

“I will miss it terribly,” she said. “My co-workers, especially. So many good, good people who work in the county. They work so hard to help the people.”

Jerry Noble, the Allen County Superior Court Executive, hired O’Riordan at Wood.

“Brenda is an institution, a fixture with the court,” he said. “She knows how to read everybody that comes into contact with that office and get them what they need to have.”

Having hoped to stick around a few more years, O’Riordan will take a little time off with her two granddaughters but has every intention of finding another job.

She knows that nothing will be as dramatic as the parade of humanity that goes past her door every day.

“I’ve never been so entertained in all my life,” she said.

But O’Riordan says she will be fine with a little less stress and a little slower pace.

Making new plans

Behind the behind-the-scenes is Jerry Noble, his executive assistant Gloria Perez and another assistant, Rose Moya.

Noble, 64, the court executive, runs the business side of Superior Court – the equipment, the personnel and its relationships with other aspects of county government.

He’s been working for Allen County for 43 years.

“I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t enjoyed it,” he said. “I think my time had come.”

Judge Davis described Noble as a class act.

His role has been not just to help run the division, but he’s helped smooth the learning curves for new judges when they have taken the bench.

“He makes us look good with County Council. He makes us look good with department heads,” Davis said.

Noble said he was already looking at retirement and the changes to the state’s pension fund did not weigh on his decision.

While Moya came to the courts about 14 years ago, Perez has been with Noble since 1978. Both are leaving with Noble.

Enjoying the grandkids is on the short-term plan for these soon-to-be retirees as well, along with some traveling and rest.

Noble said it wouldn’t have been any fun to do the job without his assistants.

“It’s one of those things. We all kind of felt the same way. ‘I’m not too excited to be here without you here.’ ”

Perez, 57, also speaks highly of the court system as a place to work. In the past few weeks, the thought of not coming into work makes her want to cry frequently throughout her last few days. She’s scheduled to leave this month.

“It’s an awesome family to work with,” she said. “This is my other family. To be honest, I know nothing else.”

rgreen@jg.net


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