Johnson County to spend $1 million to help DA’s office clear cases backlogged by pandemic

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OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County District Attorney’s office will get help to clear hundreds of backlogged cases caused by the pandemic.

The D.A.’s office hasn’t held jury trials since March 18, 2020 because of an order from the Kansas Supreme Court. The office has continued to operate and conduct basic business through video meetings and hearings, but say trials haven’t been held in 15 months.

Steve Howe, Johnson County District Attorney says this impacts the victims and the accused.

“We have 25 homicide cases waiting to go,” Howe said. “We have a number of sex crimes, very serious person felonies where people were seriously injured or hurt. So there’s a wide range of cases that are sitting there, a lot of a lot of cases, people are sitting out on bond, but some cases people are been have remained in custody.”

Thursday, Johnson County Commissioners approved a request from the D.A. to spend more than $1 million to hire three staff attorneys and one trial assistant to help clear and prosecute 400 to 500 cases waiting for trial.

Amy Workman’s son Ben Workman was shot and killed in Overland Park in January of 2019. Two of three suspects are in jail waiting for trial.

“I still have night terrors. I have severe PTSD, major depression disorder, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, all of this. I only slept two hours last night,” Workman said. “It’s been over two years. It’s getting up towards almost two and a half years that my son was murdered. That’s just not fair. It’s just not right.”Howe says he hopes trials will resume in June. He says his office will take on the cases that have the most serious public safety implications.

“There is no incentive for anybody to plead guilty. If there’s facing serious sentences on sex crime or homicides, there’s no incentive for them to plead at this point. And that has resulted in cases stacking up,” Steve Howe, Johnson County District Attorney, said.

Howe told commissioners that his office typically handles between 60 to 75 jury trials a year. He said that without the additional help some defendants could be waiting another two years for trial.

“While we’re trying to do this backlog, of course, we continue to have cases coming in the door. And really, even though we had a little bit of a downturn, we didn’t have a significant downturn of cases during the pandemic,” Howe said.

The temporary employees will work with the D.A.’s office from August 1, 2021 through December 31, 2023. More than $860,000 of salaries and benefits may be reimbursed with Federal COVID-19 Pandemic Aid Funds.

Workman hopes her son’s case goes to trial as soon as possible.

“These guys didn’t only take Ben’s life away, but they’ve affected so many other people,” Workman said. “I had to see my son with half of his head gone because they shot him in his head and still no trial.”

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