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Justice of the Peace Court location limits operation due to statewide staffing shortages

Starting this week, Justice of the Peace Court 9 in Middletown will be limiting operations to twice a week.

The court will operate normally only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, though there will be a drop box, which will be processed daily, available at JP Court 9 for people to drop off civil filings. Court officials expect the change to remain in place until early next year.

JP Court 9 is one of four JP Courts in New Castle County where Justice of the Peace Court Director of Human Resources Liz Petrick says they’re feeling staffing shortages the most.

She adds because other courts in the county have such a high volume, it made most sense to reduce operations at Court 9.

“By not working to continue to add staff at Court 9, we’re able to hopefully fill the vacancies in the other locations, so that we’re more stabilized and get training done, and it will be sooner that we can resume full operations at Court 9,” said Petrick.

The Justice of the Peace Court is the state’s busiest court and handles civil and minor criminal cases, many including landlord/tenant matters, traffic cases, and other violations.

JP Court 9 normally handles both types of cases, civil and criminal, but until further notice JP Court 7 in Dover will take on JP Court 9’s criminal caseload. And JP Court 13 in New Castle will handle any urgent civil matters that come to JP Court 9.

Petrick says in addition to trying to fill the staffing shortages through job postings and social media outreach, they’re trying to temporarily augment staff until they can reach employment numbers high enough for full operation.

“We have reached out and are working with several high school and college interns because we can train them to do some of the tasks that may not be as customer facing, but some of the backend systems things and date entry that our clerks might be tasked with,” explained Petrick. “So if we can have interns coming and working on some of these, then our staff can do other things.”

She adds the JP Court hopes that exposing students to working in the court on a temporary basis will spark interest in them to come back for future employment opportunities. They are also reaching out to recent retirees to assist as well.

And Petrick assures that limiting operations at JP Court 9 will not lead to a backlog of cases.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.