DA Kellner’s office saddled with case backlog due to COVID

New program for adults with addiction also announced in DA’s community update

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/2/21

Suspects and victims of crimes have been waiting for their day in court for longer periods of time amid restrictions on the judicial system during the coronavirus pandemic, according to John Kellner, …

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DA Kellner’s office saddled with case backlog due to COVID

New program for adults with addiction also announced in DA’s community update

Posted

Suspects and victims of crimes have been waiting for their day in court for longer periods of time amid restrictions on the judicial system during the coronavirus pandemic, according to John Kellner, the district attorney for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.

“We do have challenges,” Kellner said, citing that 111 felony trials are set to proceed in Arapahoe County alone in August. “We are looking at another year or so to dig out of this.”

Kellner spoke to the community and took questions during a June 29 virtual meeting via Zoom. He updated the public on his office’s new programs and other information about criminal justice in his area.

He holds a quarterly meeting with the community, according to his office. Kellner’s jurisdiction of four counties is Colorado’s 18th Judicial District.

See information about upcoming “Community Conversations,” — and videos of past conversations, here.

Here’s a look at what Kellner brought to the public’s attention during the June 29 meeting.

Case backlog stretches on

In terms of court capacity slowly returning, the judicial district was “in the crawl stage” in February and March, Kellner said.

Speaking about current trial capacity, Kellner noted Arapahoe County is open almost 50% in its district court, which hears felony cases. There, three of seven courtrooms are open.

In Douglas County, two courtrooms are already open, and Elbert and Lincoln counties each have one courtroom open, Kellner said. Arapahoe sees a higher trial load: Thirty of the 43 felony trials since February have occurred in Arapahoe, according to Kellner’s presentation.

One viewer of the Zoom meeting asked why Arapahoe has an overall case backlog of about 1,600 or more while Douglas has a case backlog of 2,000 even though Arapahoe’s population is much larger than that of Douglas.

A big driver of the difference was a recent reduction in traffic cases, Kellner answered. Misdemeanors and felonies declined but not at the same rate, he added.

“We’re seeing a lot less traffic cases that were filed in Arapahoe and (we) were able to dig out of that a little faster,” Kellner said.

He noted that the Douglas County District Court, on average, has a higher case load per prosecutor because Arapahoe has more felony divisions: Six or seven felony judges serve in Arapahoe as opposed to just two in Douglas, Kellner said.

That difference amounts to a “pinch point” that drives the higher case backlog in Douglas, Kellner said.

The case backlog in Elbert stood at 150 cases, and Lincoln’s sat at 380.

Targeting crimes linked to racism, bias

Around March of this year, the public was hearing more about a concerning rise in anti-Asian crimes, exemplified especially by the shootings in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, Kellner noted.

Local officials in Colorado wondered what they could do better to “put some more teeth” into state law regarding bias-motivated crimes, Kellner said.

He worked with state Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora on an effort to better target those crimes. The bill “passed overwhelmingly in both the Senate and the House” and was signed into law recently by Gov. Jared Polis, Kellner said.

The new law, state Senate Bill 21-280, clarifies that crimes need only be partially motivated by bias to be categorized as a bias-motivated crime.

Under that new law, a person can be accused of a bias-motivated crime if the crime occurs with the intent to intimidate or harass another person, in whole or in part because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation.

New program to address addiction

Starting in July, the DA’s office was to launch a new “diversion” program for adults who are struggling with addiction, Kellner said. It’s intended to focus on drug possession cases.

For those who are accused of a first or second offense, the program will take them out of the court system entirely, Kellner said. If they comply with the program to help them back on their feet, their charge will be dismissed.

Seeking info on shooting

Kellner asked the public for any information people have about a shooting that occurred at a gathering related to a Juneteenth celebration in Aurora off Mississippi Avenue at Peoria Street.

The incident saw multiple shooters, more than 100 shell cases recovered at the scene, four people wounded and one killed, Kellner said.

“We’re still looking for help on this, and we need the public’s assistance to solve cases like this,” Kellner said.

If you know something or think you might know something about the case, Kellner urged calling Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867 (or see metrodenvercrimestoppers.com). You can remain anonymous.

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