Delaware courts address case backlog in front of state lawmakers
The state’s case backlog was a topic of concern for lawmakers during a budget hearing for Delaware’s Judiciary Thursday.
The state’s court system presented its 2022 budget requests to the Joint Finance Committee, and updated lawmakers on some major ongoing projects.
Lawmakers asked about a backlog in cases the judiciary faces because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jury trials have largely been suspended since March, except for a trial run in October which was quickly reversed after a rise in COVID cases.
Chief Justice Collins Seitz says the state Supreme Court does not have any issues, but lower courts face big backlogs.
“But once we get back in the courthouses and get working we’re gonna prioritize criminal cases but I would expect at least a year for us to work back to manageable levels," Seitz said.
Seitz says criminal cases constitute the bulk of the backlog, since those are the ones that require a jury most of the time. And some cases, especially murder cases, can take a long time to get through.
State. Sen Ernie Lopez (R-Rehoboth Beach) also brought up the Family Court in Sussex County, which expects to break ground on a new building this summer.
Lopez says with Delaware's southern county growing more rapidly, he anticipates a need for more commissioners on the Family Court in Sussex County. Currently, there are only three.
Delaware is also growing more diverse every year, and some state agencies are working to catch up with the changing face of Delaware.
Seitz highlighted one request, bringing on full time Spanish-language interpreters.
“We are in dire need of full time Spanish interpreters. And these are not people that you could just pull out of college or something like that," Seitz said. "These are specially trained interpreters that come into the courts and help in all of the court systems, not just criminal but in family court…”
Seitz notes these positions are currently contracted out, but the courts want to ensure highly qualified interpreters stay in those positions. He says the court’s been requesting this for years.
Seitz adds it’s been difficult for the courts to recruit a diverse workforce.
They are working on building a better relationship between Delaware State University and Delaware Law School to encourage more students to enter the legal field.
That could include scholarships, internship opportunities and pre-law programs at DSU and other HBCU’s.
The courts are also asking for a half a million towards upgrading an outdated storage network for the courts system and bringing on an additional two court security officer positions.
Their total budget requests comes out to a little over a $1 million increase.
Roman Battaglia a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.