SHERIDAN — Justice administrators have initiated a process with the ultimate goal of rebalancing the workload between the municipal and circuit courts. After two months, it’s too early to tell whether shifting some cases from county to city resources will make a significant difference in the overall functioning of each respective entity.
Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle said he’s been reassigning some cases originally written into circuit court back to the municipal court after his own staff and the staff at circuit court became burdened with an overwhelming number of small-time offenses to prosecute.
Redle said the kickback rate has averaged out to one case per day since the policy change went into effect Sept. 3.
“Obviously, we’re not talking great numbers.” Redle said. “If it’s about one a day, it will end up being 300 and some cases by the end of the year.”
Most of the cases being sent back to the city for administrative execution are low-level offenses that Redle believes can be adequately handled with city resources. The bulk of the tickets are for minor offenses, including traffic violations, failure to maintain insurance and minor in possession charges.
“I think it’s apparent these aren’t cases that require any level of sophistication among the prosecutors to handle,” Redle said. “In our estimation, our judgement is these don’t require any extraordinary resources that aren’t available to the municipal court criminally.”
Municipal Court Manager Jennifer Shassetz said she’s hoping that as time goes by, they’ll get a sense of which charges should be written into circuit court and which should stay in municipal.
“We didn’t have any cut-and-dry directive,” she explained.
“We’re still trying to gather data and work with their office in reference of what he’s taking so that we don’t overburden our court or his,” Shassetz added. “It’s always good to look at how we could do better.”
The new process of sending some lower-level offense charges back to Sheridan’s municipal court began because circuit court resources were overburdened with citations. While city officials named tight budgets as a primary motivating factor to divert many charges to circuit court, Redle said both entities are under economic pressure.
The new system established provides for offenders to be put through municipal court if city ordinances sufficiently address the behavior in question. Redle said some city-oriented cases may still be prosecuted with circuit court assets if there are extenuating circumstances.
“We have some cases we have accepted even though the offense is one that’s already covered by city ordinance,” he said, adding those cases usually have existing ties to the circuit court.
Shassetz said so far, the extra workload has been next to unnoticeable on her end.
“We’re not seeing it as a big challenge right now,” she said.
Shassetz said it will be a few months still before she is able to determine whether the diversion of more tickets into city court resources results in more income for the city via municipal court fees.