Clearfield County has seen a large increase in criminal cases over the past several years, and it is straining the court system, President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman reported at yesterday’s prison board meeting.
Ammerman said he and Judge Paul Cherry have compiled the numbers which show that criminal cases have increased from 923 in 2014 to 1,408 in 2020 — an increase of 52 percent.
So far this year there has been 908 criminal cases heard as of Sept. 13.
“We are absolutely, completely inundated with criminal cases and criminal trials,” Ammerman said.
Ammerman said they have so many trials to hear, that for the first time in memory the county has had to schedule special sessions of jury selection to get caught up with the workload.
Currently, there are 43 trials scheduled on the docket for a total of 93 days, Court Administrator F. Cortez “Chip” Bell III said.
Clearfield County District Attorney Ryan Sayers said most of these cases that are going to trial are for major crimes where the defendant is looking at significant jail time.
“And we have more cases coming in all the time,” Sayers said.
Ammerman said the increase in case load has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sayers said drugs and drug-related crimes continues to account for most of the caseload. Usually, the county schedules trials a month or two after jury selection — now they are scheduling them as late as April and May. And he said this is “way too long,” especially for those who are incarcerated awaiting trial.
To shorten the wait times, the county will be using retired senior judges to hold trials and Bell said they have senior judges scheduled for 14 days until the end of the year.
Ammerman said they will likely have even more days once the new year starts. Senior judges are paid by the state, therefore it won’t cost local taxpayers any more money, Ammerman said.
But because there isn’t enough space in the courthouse to have two or three jury trials at the same time, Ammerman said the county is renting the Copper Cork Event Center in Clearfield to hold trials.
“I don’t know what else we can do to get caught up,” Ammerman said.
Clearfield County Commissioner Dave Glass praised court employees for their work and for keeping the commissioners abreast of the situation. Glass said they have budgeted more money to the court system to pay for the increased costs.