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Pinal County trying to clear court backlog generated by pandemic

The Pinal County Attorney's Office says it's handling about 300 more open cases than normal, which is contributing to a backlog in the local courts.

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. — Officials in Pinal County are seeking federal dollars to hire more judges who can help clear a court backlog that's grown during the pandemic. 

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors reviewed this week a request to apply for grant money that would be spent on paying four part-time court commissioners. 

Because the court system has not been able to host many trials throughout the ongoing pandemic, officials say the dockets are becoming more overwhelmed with criminal and civil cases.  

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said his office normally has 700 open cases at any time. Currently, the agency is trying to resolve about 1,000 open cases, Volkmer said. 

The county's top prosecutor said he's pleaded for judges to schedule more trials in order to help his office return to normalcy. 

"We can't function without trials," Volkmer told the board. "Trials are necessary to get cases resolved because defendants are less likely to take a plea agreement unless there is a hard backstop."  

One notable criminal case that's gone unresolved in Pinal County is the indictment against William Randolph, who's accused of creating a fake Facebook profile to lure and murder 25-year-old Cody Virgin near Casa Grande.

Randolph was arrested nearly five years ago and court records show the case appears to still be ongoing. 

In 2020, Volkmer said his office filed 10% more cases but the number of trials held that year dropped by 60%.

Volkmer said it's been difficult to hold trials because many citizens don't feel comfortable coming to the courthouse or can't serve on a jury because they have to quarantine.

"You'll be shocked by how many people miraculously say that (they've) been exposed when they don't want to serve on a jury," Volkmer added.

If approved, the requested grant money would come from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The county board voted to delay authorizing the grant request until their next meeting later this month.

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