Courts Are Clogged

Courts struggling with massive backlog because of pandemic

Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald describes how Whatcom County will use federal relief funds to aid courts in the growing backlog of cases that have transpired since the Coronavirus Pandemic.

According to Pratt, Whatcom County approved spending nearly $600,000 of federal relief funds to address the backlog of cases burdening the Whatcom County court system. The Whatcom County Council approved $598,319 for the county’s criminal justice and court system from the American Rescue Plan Act, the nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief measure that U.S. President Joe Biden signed in March.

Whatcom County will see roughly $44.5 million from the coronavirus pandemic relief measure. The funds are able to be used for three years. The money was part of a $1.6 million budget amendment  that the Whatcom County Council passed.

Apparently, Whatcom County’s court system is facing a  growing backlog of unresolved court cases stalled by the Coronavirus Pandemic. The money approved by the county council is an attempt to address those issues.

According to Pratt, the $598,319 will get distributed as follows:

▪ Whatcom County Clerk’s Office will receive $18,611 for a specialty court clerk.

▪ Whatcom County District Court will receive $88,178 for a clerk and a receptionist.

▪ The Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will receive $99,419 for two attorneys, one victim-witness coordinator and one legal assistant.

▪ The Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office will receive $262,506 for four attorneys, two investigators, one behavioral health specialist and two legal assistants.

▪ Whatcom County Superior Court will receive $129,605 for a court commissioner and a judicial assistant.

Due to an overload of cases, the Whatcom Public Defender’s Office has had to return cases to the county’s Office of Assigned Counsel for the first time. From January 2020 through July of this year, the public defender’s office sent back 609 felony cases and 115 District Court cases. That’s a marked increase from years prior, where in 2018, 34 cases total were returned, and 2019, 118 cases total were returned, the data shows.

Pratt also reports that the county also has 11 attorneys on contract to provide outside indigent defense, which includes lawyers from outside Whatcom County for the first time, The Herald previously reported. The return of cases of the Office of Assigned Counsel has led to the county’s budget for contracted indigent defense being almost used up as of mid-August.

My opinion? The Public Defender’s Office has skilled, hardworking attorneys. And obviously, they’re an extremely busy office. Criminal charges are nothing to contend with or take lightly. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. It’s important to hire an effective and competent defense attorney with the time and capacity to work your case.