Case backlog a main concern of Marion County prosecutor, public defender during council committee meeting

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears and public defender Robert Hill shared their concerns over the backlog of cases with an Indianapolis City-County Council committee during Wednesday’s budget hearing. Both criminal justice leaders said the ongoing pandemic is causing cases to pile up.

“The problem we have now is before we could do 9 or 10 jury trials a week,” Mears said. “Now because of the COVID guidelines and restrictions, we can only do a couple of jury trials a week.”

Mears explained to councilors how additional funding in the upcoming budget could impact his office.

“We would be able to hopefully be in the position to have that stronger, more quick and consistent communications with victims, be in a better position to offer plea agreements, and be able to work through this backlog,” Mears said. “But there’s only so many hours in the day. If you look at our ratio for our prosecutors in terms of how many cases they’re handling, it’s out of whack.”

The public defender’s office is worried about the backlog too. Thanks to federal grant funding, the agency hired eight temporary attorneys and will soon add two more. Hill said this will allow them to move forward on 450 major felony cases in the backlog.

“That was the genesis of this program was to make sure that we could keep the caseloads at a reasonable level so we could handle the cases to represent our clients well which is our goal,” Hill said. “We want to have zealous representation, we want to have the best representation the citizens of Marion County deserve.”

Hill said he would like to eventually ask for additional funding for more attorneys to handle new cases, and pay raises for his staff too. He said for his support staff, there have not been raises since he took office in 2008.

The raises come with promotion, but there are no standard pay raises.

“We have a lot of interest, a lot of good, young lawyers that are motivated that have the heart to be a public defender, that are motivated to help other people, to help people that need a lot of help in the court system,” Hill said. “The problem becomes, when we hire someone in, they realize that because of our pay structure here in the county, that they can go to work for the federal government, go work for state agencies and make more money. When that happens they have to make the financial decisions.”

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