Backlog of criminal cases could cost Dallas County millions of dollars

Dallas County could lose millions of grant dollars from the state because of a record backlog of cases that have not been cleared. 

Commissioner John Wiley Price says it's because the court system failed to work safely during the pandemic. He says judges need to get back to work 

This all came out Tuesday as commissioners were set to vote on spending money to hire more people to supervise folks who are wearing ankle monitors. Many of the people in jail are waiting for their day in court.

Monitoring devices would get them out of jail until trial, but Price says that’s not the answer. He’s against hiring more people to supervise folks on electronic monitors.

"Frank Crowley court judges need to go back to work," he said.

As of April of this year, there are 22,452 pending misdemeanor cases and 21, 642 pending felony cases.

There are 19,000 more cases backlogged now than before the pandemic hit.

Defense attorney Heath Harris says some judges are still working remotely.

"I think that there was a time when a lot of the COVID restrictions were needed," he said. "I think that time is passed, and we need to get back to work."

By state law, 90% of criminal cases in a five-year period must be cleared or the county can face losing as much as $50 million in criminal justice grants from the state. The county's current disposition rate stands at 87%.

"We must dispose of 556 cases a week to meet the Aug. 1, 2022, deadline that is set by the Department of Public Safety," Price said.

"If my son goes and breaks a window, we’ve got to fix the window," said Commissioner J.J. Koch. "The judges have absolutely broken our criminal justice system by not working they have broken it 

Koch told Price he's right about the judges, but commissioners must do the right thing.

"We've got to fix the window, and we've got to go and make sure that everyone knows that it is broken 100% because of them.

"My job as commissioner is to help them as much as we can," said Commissioner Elba Garcia. 

"You cannot help them by being complicit," Price said. "Justice delayed is justice denied."

In the end, the vote was 4-1 in favor of using a little over $1 million in American Rescue Funds to hire nearly a dozen people so more waiting in jail for trial can get ankle monitors and get out. However, that doesn’t address the current court case backlog.