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Courts struggling to catch-up

In a report to the Mower County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning, County Attorney Kristen Nelsen was able to update the board on just where her office was sitting in terms of case load thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Largely working remotely, the county has avoided jury trials and going after warrants for minor crime offenses, but the result has led to a log jam in the  docket.

“We have a lot that’s sitting out there,” Nelsen told the board. “How we’re going to catch those up, I don’t know at this point.”

As of Tuesday, Nelsen said there were 289 pending jury trials with two of those cases being second degree murder trials and several sex crime trials.

So far the county attorney’s office has taken a slow and steady approach, taking small bites out of the caseload when it  can, but added to the number of pending trials are more than 1,000 outstanding warrants in the county, further complicating the situation.

One way of diminishing the number of warrants and cases is simply getting those charged back on the schedule in what Nelsen called an amnesty day, rather than just arresting them for missing court dates.

“You have a warrant, we’re not going to lock you up,” she said. “We’ll give you a new court date and you’ll have to appear.”

However, there’s also the toll that’s being taken on the victims.

“Victims aren’t getting any justice in these cases and we want them to get their day too,” Nelsen said.