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With Backlog Of Cases During Pandemic, Utah Courts Request Funding To Get Back On Track

Photo of the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Brian Grimmett
The Utah State Court system has been conducting hearings and trials virtually during the pandemic, but the state court administrator said there’s still many cases waiting to be considered.";

Like medical appointments and work meetings, the Utah State Court system has gone virtual during the coronavirus pandemic. 

State Court Administrator Judge Mary Noonan told the legislative Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Monday that’s partially a good thing, because it has forced the judiciary to reinvent itself.

“We have rethought our delivery of services in a way that not only addresses resolution of legal disputes during COVID,” Noonan said, “but I believe will serve our citizens for decades to come.”

But the pandemic has also limited the court’s ability to hear cases. Noonan said there are currently 147 jury trials waiting to be heard — 122 of which are criminal. She added that the number of unheard jury trials are increasing at a rate of 29 per month. 

Noonan said in July 2019, state courts had 47,000 hearings, which happen before a trial. Last month, there were only 29,000. 

“These numbers begin to indicate the size of the bottleneck that we are deeply concerned about,” she said.

Noonan said that backlog can have a ripple effect throughout the criminal justice system.

“When the courts can’t get to a case, the appointed lawyers are held up, the victim’s advocates, the jails and prisons are impacted,” she said.

Noonan requested the legislature return more than $1 million in funding that the courts gave back at the beginning of the pandemic. She said they’ll use it to update their software so hearings run more smoothly.

The subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend the request to the Executive Appropriations Committee.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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