County attorney’s office deals with overwhelming caseload

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When it comes to choosing an adjective to describe the Mower County Attorney’s office, “busy” is an understatement.

The county attorney’s office, which employs four full-time attorneys and one attorney working under a two-year grant, has seen nearly 6,000 criminal cases in 2010 alone — a number that jumps to 8,175 when traffic violations are included.

Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelson said she and the other attorneys have handled the situation to the best of their ability with the cards they’ve been dealt.

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“You make the best of what you can,” she said. “We want to give everything our full attention, but when you’re short (staffed) that can’t always happen.”

Nelson said the entire court system — not just county attorney offices throughout the state — is experiencing a shortage because of budget cuts.

“It’s not just one piece of the puzzle that’s broken,” she said. “It’s the whole thing.”

She also said the Mower County court system could function more smoothly with three judges instead of two, but at this point adding another judge is not financially feasible.

However, the office might be gaining a full-time employee within the next year.

There is currently an attorney who is working under a two-year grant, and the grant is set to run up in September, 2011. Mower County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said when the county board approved the 2011 budget, it also approved the hiring of the attorney to a full-time position.

“The Board is seeing fit at this point to continue this position and put it on the property tax burden,” Oscarson said. “It’s pretty much set in stone, to some degree.”

Although the added attorney would continue with her current duties upon hire, she would hopefully be able to lighten the other attorneys’ caseload, if only by a bit, Oscarson said. He said if budgets weren’t an issue, the county would need at least one more attorney and one more paralegal.