Attorney - Criminal Case Backlog

Authorization To Use American Rescue Plan State And Local Fiscal Recovery Funds To Add 3.0 FTE To County Attorney’s Office Criminal Division In Response To impacts Of COVID-19 Pandemic And Amend County Attorney's Office And Non-Departmental 2021 Budgets

There is a significant backlog of criminal cases in Dakota County District Court. The backlog was caused by the inability to conduct jury trials and other hearing types for a significant period dating back to March 16, 2020. On that date, Chief Justice Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a statewide order affecting district court operations. Throughout 2020 and up to the current date, Chief Justice Gildea issued several other orders affecting district court operations to ensure the safety of court participants that understandably have had a severe negative impact on the number of criminal cases that could be processed.

As of February 2020 (pre-pandemic), the COA had 2,118 active criminal cases. As of September 21, 2021, the COA had 3,326 active criminal cases, an increase of 1,208 cases. In a meeting with justice partners on July 28, 2021, the Dakota County Court Administrator advised that the Minnesota Judicial Council has set a long-term goal to reduce the major criminal pending caseload by 20 percent every four months. If this goal is met, it will take until June 30, 2023 to eliminate the major criminal backlog.

To assist in addressing the backlog, the County Attorney implemented policy changes during the pandemic to expedite cases through the court system, but ultimately additional staff is needed to respond to the backlog created by the pandemic. The Treasury Department has stated regarding the use of ARP-FRF:

“Court backlogs resulting from inability of courts to safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic decreased the government’s ability to administer services. Therefore, steps to reduce these backlogs, such as implementing COVID-19 safety measures to facilitate court operations, hiring additional court staff or attorneys to increase speed of case resolution, and other expenses to expedite case resolution are eligible uses.”

Timely resolution of criminal cases is an important and necessary public service. Hiring two special staff assistant attorneys and a legal administrative assistant will allow the CAO to respond to the criminal case backlog caused by COVID-19. The positions will be term limited to two years.