Cherokee County will spend about $1.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars over the next year to expand staffing for the district attorney’s office as it faces an extensive backlog in trials.
A letter from District Attorney Shannon Wallace said Cherokee County is facing a logjam that could take at least four years to process. As of Oct. 15, the county had over 1,100 cases on its trial calendars.
“This is a significant backlog due to the inability to call in jurors and try jury trials for over a year time period,” Wallace said.
Due to state and local restrictions related to the pandemic, Cherokee County Superior Court was unable to conduct jury trials from March 2020 through February of this year. The court had scheduled to increase its number of judges from three to four in August, but rising COVID cases halted those plans, and the court was again forced to shut down for jury trials.
To expedite the backlog in cases, the county will hire a deputy chief assistant district attorney, two specialty prosecutors, two “trial line” assistant district attorneys, three investigators, two victim advocates and an administrative assistant for a total of 11 new positions. The cost for salaries, benefits, equipment and other expenses for the new employees will be $1.068 million per year.
County Manager Geoff Morton said the county has ARPA dollars in place to fund the positions for three years.
Morton told the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners Nov. 2 the positions are technically temporary, but the DA’s office had already planned to increase staffing.
“These funds are in place for three years and will give the District Attorney’s office some time to evaluate those employees before permanently hiring them for when they do expand as a result of the additional judge,” Morton said.
In her letter to Cherokee County Administrative Services Director Stacey Williams, Wallace said it is her understanding the court system expects to resume trials with four judges as soon as possible.
As of Oct. 15, Wallace said the court system had 57 cases dealing with “serious violent felonies,” including 10 murders, on its trial calendars.
“The offense dates for all of the cases currently on the trial calendars were prior to the expiration of the statewide judicial emergency on (June 30, 2021), and therefore are ‘backlog cases,’” she said.
She added that her office had 955 cases that did not yet have indictments, including 74 violent felonies and four murder cases.