SNOW HILL – The Worcester County State’s Attorney says it will take another prosecutor to handle the backlog of cases created by COVID-19.
State’s Attorney Kris Heiser told the Worcester County Commissioners this week she was seeking funding in the coming fiscal year for a new prosecutor to help with the county’s surfeit of cases. Heiser’s prosecutors, who already handle more cases than their peers throughout the state, are now forced to catch up with trials not held in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“There have been only three jury trials in our county since March of 2020, which means we still haven’t resolved over 20,000 cases that were charged last year,” she said. “That is going to take us years and years to catch up, meaning that not only do I have enough work for another prosecutor and another investigator, I have enough work for several more of both and that work is going to exist for years.”
Heiser presented a fiscal year 2022 budget request of $1,531,857, which is 11.5% higher than last year’s budget.
Heiser praised her existing nine prosecutors, who she said handled more cases in more courthouses than any county in the state. According to Heiser, the average caseload for a prosecutor in Maryland is 1,350 cases a year. In Worcester County, prosecutors’ average annual caseload is 2,700.
“We’re definitely doing more with less and we have been for quite some time, but this isn’t sustainable moving forward, especially now,” she said.
Catching up with the cases not resolved in 2020 is expected to take years. In an effort to speed the process up, the court will be holding criminal trials more frequently. Rather than criminal cases the first half of the month and civil cases the latter, the court will be scheduling criminal cases the entire month, according to Heiser.
“They’re also going to schedule multiple jury trials on the same dates,” she said. “In case one defendant fails to appear for court, the second jury trial will be ready to go. That also means I’ve got to have two prosecutors in my office ready to try a jury trial case every single day there’s any jury trial, which means that I have to have more prosecutors prepared to be in court and they won’t know which case is going to be tried.”
She said she felt she’d be doing the county a disservice if she didn’t ask the commissioners for the personnel increase.
“Your approval of these positions will continue to send a message to everyone in the world that maybe doesn’t experience the same level of support for law enforcement as we do in Worcester County,” she said. “We certainly want to continue to have that reputation that we take law and order seriously and you can count on our police and our prosecutors to keep us safe.”