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October 27, 2021

10/1/2021 1:23:00 PM
District Court backlog calls for extra help

Lingering effects of about 18 months in covid-mode are impacting the criminal courts in Center City. The court system and county attorney’s office were hit with reducing hours and how many people could be physically working together,  shifting to virtual hearings and trials— and the net result is being buried by caseload.

But, last week the Chisago County Board okayed money to fund extra staff from the American Recovery Program Act.
Chisago County has about $10 million in total.  

County Attorney Janet Reiter made a case at the County Board meeting September 15 for ARPA funding to cover temporary positions of law clerk and media services technician, to catch up on “a looming and growing’ number of criminal court cases stalled out from situations arising from covid-19.  

The law clerk was approved at 20 hours per week.  A skilled clerk will free up time for attorneys to attend major crime hearings, prepare for settlements and trials, etc., the Board heard.

County Attorney Reiter told the County Board, “Because criminal cases continue to be charged out at a normal rate but are not being disposed of as efficiently as before the pandemic,  the backlog continues to grow.”

The Minnesota Judicial Branch has identified thousands of serious felony and gross misdemeanor cases filed either prior to March 2020 or since the beginning of the pandemic which remain open and needing resolution.  Reiter informed the Board.  that of these,  over 250 major criminal cases are in Chisago County.  In overall offenses,  the county is at 770 open files requiring processing and scheduling for court.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch (10th District here) has set an aggressive timeline to significantly reduce or eliminate the covid-19 related case backlog. The local court is “...poised to respond but we recognize this will be a very long, arduous process,” Reiter added.  

Introducing the position of media technician is necessary because video and audio evidence is growing more prevalent (bodyworn cameras, private surveillance, drone use)and more complex.

A media tech is going to be crucial in assisting to address the backlog;  because he or she can take some of the work off the plates of legal assistants.

This was approved by the Board as a fulltime position.

Anyone interested and with credentials in either field is encouraged to contact the county attorney’s office or Human Resources for details.

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