By Adam Thorp
Pike County Prosecutor Alex Ellison hopes to grow his staff to accommodate a growing backlog of cases.
Ellison broached the issue with the Pike County Commission at their meeting Thursday morning.
Ellison told the commissioners that the office filed about 300 non-traffic criminal cases last year and that, as of April 1, he was on case to file more than 400.
The increased pace is being felt most acutely in the process of turning over documents to defense attorneys. Delays in discovery force defense attorneys to request delays in the case, building up the backlog.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re so far behind in discovery, and things are slipping,” Ellison said.
In an interview Friday, Ellison declined to speculate on why his caseload was growing, but noted that the county was growing and that he’d need to look at the details of the cases to fully understand the dynamics.
Ellison said he would ideally add somebody tasked to handle incoming documents and discovery. His existing employees, he said, did their best to juggle those responsibilities but the churn of fielding them kept them away from more involved legal issues where their time could be used more productively.
“They do fantastic work. There’s just too much of it. We’re a growing county,” Ellison said. “The staff right now is handling it great but I foresee bigger problems in the future.”
Presiding Commissioner Chris Gamm told Ellison that the commission was planning to draw up a mid-year budget adjustment that could include changes in his office’s budget.
“Crime isn’t going to stop,” Gamm said.
The commissioners struck an optimistic note on the overall direction of the justice system in Pike County, with a focus on getting people to work and off of drugs, which might relieve pressure on the justice system.
“With the people that are in place, we’ve got a justice system where people are thinking outside of the box, and I think we’re going to have great things happen. I really do,” said Western District Commissioner Bill Allen said.
The prospect of a larger staff for the prosecutor points to another issue in front of the Pike County Commission—office space. The prosecutor’s space on the third floor of the Pike County courthouse is already full-to-overflowing, according to Ellison.
“We are already past max capacity,” Ellison said.
The move of the University of Missouri Extension office from its space on the first floor of the courthouse to the renovated courthouse annex opens up some space, and commissioners floated the idea of moving at least some of the public-facing functions of his office downstairs.
“I don’t think that’s enough room for all of us to move down there. As far of taking some of the room, I’d have to think pretty hard about how to split an office up,” Ellison told the commissioners.