Calhoun County courts dealing with delays
CALHOUN COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A court case can be wrapped up in under an hour on television, but that is far from reality. Cases can drag on for weeks, months, or even over a year.
In Calhoun County, court cases get delayed time and time again. Those delays leave families waiting and wondering when and if there will be justice.
It's been more than 16 months since Jessica Lambert died. In September of 2015 a teenager allegedly driving under the influence hit Lambert's car, killing the 30-year-old woman in Emmett Township. This case is not set for trial until March.
Circuit Court Administrator Jeff Albaugh said Lambert's case is the exception, not the rule but they too realized there was a problem.
"We have understood that there was, unacceptable from our view point, a delay in dealing with the criminal case load and that was the impetus for us to ask for the mini review by the state court administrative office," Albaugh said.
Calhoun County has seen a slow increase in its criminal cases. In 2011, the circuit court handled 880 felony cases. That number climbed to 961 in 2016. All of those cases are distributed between just two judges.
Albaugh said each case has its own struggles. He told Newschannel 3 important information isn't always exchanged between the defense attorneys and the prosecutor's office, further delaying a case. To avoid these issues, the judges will set a timeline for each case that the prosecutors and defense attorneys must follow. That change went into effect January 1st.
"They've impressed upon them that it will be followed or that sanctions can be applied and will be applied by the court for any delays," said Albaugh.
But Albaugh says defendants in jail will continue to be placed above those who are not incarcerated.
"Under Michigan law, they get preference on the docket." ... "for jail overcrowding basically is part of it. The other part of it is due process. The general rule is that you're entitled not to be in jail," he said.
The defendant in Jessica Lambert's case is not behind bars but Albaugh said unless there is a plea deal this case will go to trial March 28th.
Also beginning in March, Chief Judge Michael Jaconette will begin taking some criminal cases. Albaugh said this will help ease the caseload for the two circuit court judges who handle those cases.