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N. Versailles court busiest in the county

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 5:11 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Magisterial District Judge Robert Barner's North Versailles Township courtroom heard more cases than any other district court in the county in 2012, excluding Pittsburgh. Barner officially retired on April 6, but remains seated as a senior judge, pending either an appointment by the governor or the election of a new magisterial district judge in 2015.

Anyone who's ever been to court knows the experience can be, among other things, rather slow.

The slightest matter can bring the legal system to a halt and court time can feel a lot like time spent waiting in an airport.

The Magisterial District Court in North Versailles Township is one local legal venue that doesn't have the luxury of dwelling too long on any one case.

Last year, the court headed by Judge Robert L. Barner heard more cases than all other local courts in the county with the exception of Pittsburgh municipal court, which handles cases from all over the county and operates on a 24-hour basis.

A total of 8,539 cases were heard in the courtroom along Route 30 last year.

That's 1,275 more cases than the office with the next highest case load, that of Magisterial District Judge Thomas P. Caulfield in Forest Hills, which heard 7,264 cases.

Third highest on the list is also a court office in the eastern part of the county. Magisterial District Judge Kim M. Hoots' office in Wilkinsburg heard 7,224 cases.

“In this office there's always job security,” said Barner, 64, who noted he's actually processed more cases in previous years. Before there was a district court in Turtle Creek, he said as many as 13,000 cases passed across his desk in one year.

Presently, the North Versailles courtroom hears cases from the township as well as Wilmerding, East McKeesport, Wall and Trafford. The majority of cases heard last year were traffic related. Barner said the 5,981 such cases he heard are the result of his having three major highways in his jurisdiction — routes 48, 148 and 30.

“It's a lot of heavy truck traffic coming out of Westmoreland going into (Pittsburgh),” he said.

The judge estimated 85-90 percent of drivers who get tickets request a hearing on their cases. “Everybody is hoping for mercy from the court and a reduction so there aren't points on their license or suspension.”

“Sometimes I'll have 150 traffic hearings in a day,” he said.

North Versailles Commissioner Sam Juliano recently noted the court's high case volume at a township meeting. Barner deserves credit for “working hard with police and code enforcement officers to take care of blight” and for his service to other communities served by the office.

The North Versailles court has four full-time staff members. Barner said each employee handles specific kinds of cases but all help to process the traffic cases because there are so many.

“They do excellent work. It's a never-ending thing. They just keep up with it,” he said. “I've got an excellent staff.”

Barner was elected judge in 1999. Prior to that, he was an Allegheny County deputy sheriff for 21 years. He was a Braddock police officer for two years before that. His current term as judge ends in 2018.

Pittsburgh municipal court, which hears after-hours cases from all over the county and is located downtown, had the most cases last year at 59,375.

District courts that heard the fewest cases last year were those of Judge James Joseph Haley Jr. in Greenfield at 797 cases and Judge Antony M. Ceoffe in Lawrenceville at 446 cases.

The average number of cases heard in the county's 46 district courts — with municipal court of Pittsburgh excluded from the calculation — was 4,507 last year.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or