What Covid Did To The Courts
Huge backlog of cases could take years to clear. Big numbers in Milwaukee and biggest counties.
Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano has said it will take up to two years to clear the case backlog in criminal division of the county’s circuit court system.
Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis told officials there that the county’s backlog has risen from 1,900 in 2019 to more than 3,000 this year.
In counties all over the state, COVID-19 has slowed courts to a crawl.
There were 58,678 pending criminal cases in circuit court in December 2019, according to state statistics. By December 2020, that number had risen 28%, to 75,153, an increase of 16,475.
State population: 5,822,434
Biggest change: The number of felony cases went up by 35%, or 9991 cases, from December 2019 to December 2020, according to state statistics.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 130 days; 2020 – 170 days, up 31%.
The increases have hit counties large and small and in between. We examined the differences in 15 counties – the five largest by population, the five smallest, and five smack in the middle. We’ll look at the five largest cases today, and the rest next week.
Milwaukee County population: 939,489
Biggest change: The number of felony cases shot up by 33%, or 1,267 cases, from December 2019 to December 2020.
Of note: Pending criminal traffic cases fell by 437, or 43%, likely the result of less traffic and the reluctance of officers, due to COVID concerns, to come in direct contact with drivers.
As measured as a percentage, Milwaukee County had the second smallest increase in pending cases among the five counties – 18%.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 124 days; 2020 – 269 days, up 117%.
Dane County population: 561,504
Biggest changes: As measured by numbers, pending felonies increased by 1,598, the most in any category. As measured by percentage, pending misdemeanors rose 83%, also tops.
Of note: Dane County saw big increases in all three categories. Pending felonies were up 73%, misdemeanors, as stated above, were up 83%, and criminal traffic cases were up 61%. Its overall increase in pending criminal cases was 76%.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 126 days; 2020 – 211 days, up 67%.
Waukesha County population: 406,978
Biggest changes: As measured by numbers, pending misdemeanors increased by 826, the most in any category. As measured as a percentage, pending felonies rose 68%, also tops.
Of note: Waukesha County also saw big increases in all three categories. The smallest increase was in pending criminal traffic cases, which were up 365, or 56%. Pending misdemeanor cases rose by 826, or 63%. Its overall increase in all three types of cases was 64%.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 127 days; 2020 – 170 days, up 34%.
Brown County population: 268,470
Biggest changes: Pending felony cases were up by 639, or 39%.
Of note: Pending criminal traffic cases were up by just 53 cases, or 10%.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 138 days; 2020 – 182 days, up 32%.
Racine County population: 197,727
Biggest changes: Pending felony cases were up by 345, or 27%.
Of note: Like Milwaukee County, Racine County saw a decline in pending criminal traffic cases. They were down by 115, or 16%.
Racine County saw a 9% increase in pending cases of all types, the smallest increase among the five counties.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 155 days; 2020 – 169 days, up 9%.
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”
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