Milwaukee County courts facing backlog of thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases due to coronavirus delays

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Darrell Brooks case in Milwaukee County is refocusing the spotlight on a court system that is struggling to keep up with overwhelming caseloads.

The numbers in the county are very high as there's a backlog of thousands of cases, both felonies and misdemeanors. The District Attorney says it was bad before the pandemic, but things have gotten much worse this past year. District Attorney John Chisholm said, "We're faced with triage every single day."

Chief Judge Mary E. Triggiano, of Wisconsin's First Judicial District, said, "We have not sat down for a minute and taken a breath."

Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez said, "We are behind in cases, and we are over-burdening an over-burdened system already."

Right now in Milwaukee County, there is a backlog of 1600 felony cases and 3100 misdemeanor cases. Hundreds more people are sitting in jail awaiting charges.

Judge Triggiano said, "The confluence of COVID pandemic, and the increase of non-fatal shootings and homicides has really put a strain on our system." She says some of the caseloads have doubled because of the pandemic.

Chisholm said, "They are absolutely overwhelmed, as is the system right now."

The DA's office has lost six Assistant DA positions since 2018 due to federal funding cuts. Two of those losses are from the domestic violence unit.

Chisholm said, "When you're dealing with high-volume triage, trying to sort what the most serious offense is, and just get the case in the system and move on to the next one, sometimes errors occur."

Milwaukee County Supervisor Patti Logsdon was emotional in the meeting, struggling to keep her composure as she reiterated what's at stake. She asked, "Has the county reached out to the state to assist us with this? Have you asked for any help?"

The chief judge says they are trying to chip away at the backlog, but it's not happening quickly. She said they're looking into shifting judges from other divisions into the criminal division, and trying to find more funding.

But she warns any fixes could take time, saying, "We're trying to be in recovery mode with this crisis looming over us."

One thing Judge Triggiano said is working is the financial support from the county to make sure courtrooms are COVID-compliant and able to continue operating.

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