Judicial help approved by county commission
Judge Steven Rogers speaks to jurors during a trial at the Marion County Judicial Center on Wednesday. Facing a backlog of cases due to COVID-19, the Marion County Commission agreed to help pay the salaries of additional assistant state attorneys, a general magistrate and support staff for the public defenders’ office. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
With the court system facing a backlog of cases due to COVID-19, the Marion County Board of County Commissioners agreed to the salaries of two assistant state attorneys, a general magistrate and support staff for the public defender’s office.
The county’s backlog of cases stems from not holding jury trials for nearly a year. The first jury trial in the county since the pandemic hit was in early March. The local public defender’s caseload from March 2020 to March 2021 has increased by 111%, including a 304% increase in misdemeanors.
“Now that we’ve opened back up and we are seeing juries come in every week, we are experiencing, you know, the natural backlog and clogging of the docket,” said Bill Gladson, state attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit.
In a letter written to the commission, Gladson stated that the state cut 6% of the state attorney’s budget, resulting in layoffs. He wrote that the state courts have requested an increase in their budget, as have state attorneys and public defenders.
The two state attorney positions approved by the commission will cost $150,000 for one year.
Fifth Circuit Public Defender Michael Graves also wrote the commission requesting three part-time support personnel for $60,000 to handle duties such as “data processing, interviewing in-custody defendants and serving process in preparation of trials.”
“Probably the heaviest workload that we have is preparing for bad trials, we have a lot of those coming up,” Graves said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Additionally, the commission approved funding for a full-time magistrate and a full-time assistant to officiate dependency cases. According to Judge Ann Craggs, there is only one judge for dependency cases and one part-time assistant.
In her letter to the commission, Craggs wrote that the full-time magistrate would handle more than 1,500 hearings. The magistrate’s salary is $180,000.
“The issues that we’re having is on the compressed time schedules that the statute sets forth and trying to handle these cases by Zoom, we just don’t feel like we’re giving them the attention they deserve,” she said.