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Caseloads up in Southwest District Court

Caseloads in the Southwest District Court increased 9.1 percent from 2010 to 2011 and those working in the system say they are trying to keep up.

Judge William Herauf said it's taking people longer to get through the court system because of the jump.

"The attorneys around this area are just overrun with work," Herauf said. "Trying to get them to be able to get into court, unfortunately it requires continuances and that stretches everything out."

The largest percent increase in caseloads from 2010 to 2011 was in Billings County, which increased nearly 74 percent, according to records.

State's Attorney Jay Brovold said he is feeling the impact, especially since he is the only person working out of that Billings County office.

"Recently it may have plateaued," he said. "It's just more to try to keep on top of, that's all."

Brovold feels he could handle "a fairly substantial" increase.

"I guess if it got to the point where I couldn't handle it alone, which it hasn't yet, at that point I guess the obvious choice would be to approach the commissioners about hiring an assistant," he said.

Court officials are pushed to the edge of time standards set by the Supreme Court, which is causing some to become impatient, Herauf said.

"Have I had anybody banging on my desk saying, 'We've got to get this done?' No," Herauf said. "We've gone over on a couple of them because the attorneys need additional time. If the parties need additional time to prepare their case, I think it would be a travesty of justice if we didn't allow them the full amount of time."

In 2008, the district averaged about 535 administrative traffic offenses a month, with 6,426 total that year. So far this year, the average is 1,142 traffic offenses a month, he said.

"That means we're on pace to hit about 13,700 traffic violations," Herauf said. "So that is up 54 percent."

Criminal cases are up about 10 percent from 2008 and civil cases increased by about 7 percent, he added.

"We've got three courtrooms here (in Dickinson) and we've got all three of them going at once," Herauf said.

"There's not much more we can do. We're doing the best we can."

Although the total amount of Stark County cases went unchanged from 2010 to 2011, an increase over several years and so far this year has Linda Splichal, Stark County Clerk of Court, wishing more bodies were available to help.

"We are stretched to the max," she said. "There's just so much extra work. All we can do is try to get the day-to-day things done and try to stay on top of it. I would like to get more help in here."

In addition, safety glass was installed in February at the Clerk of Court office window.

"I'd say the offenses are getting more severe, you know, the types of crimes being committed," Splichal said. "I just felt that we needed some more security for our office."

Brovold believes much of the increase relates to people from out of the area.

"I'm sure most of them are working in the area, but they're not natives or permanent residents here," he said.

However, Herauf said district wide, the increase can't be blamed entirely on energy impact.

"There's a certain amount of that, but it's not all attributable to oil," he said.