Former Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan will return to the Cole County Courthouse to hear criminal cases.
Callahan left the bench in 2010, when the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as the St. Louis-based U.S. attorney for Eastern Missouri, under then-President Barack Obama. He resigned that post last year, with the usual change of attorneys that comes with a new president.
Starting next month, Callahan is scheduled to hear Cole County felony cases set for trial and other similar cases in an effort to reduce the caseload of the other three circuit judges.
"He'll be known as senior judge," Presiding Judge Pat Joyce said. "He'll take some civil cases, but mostly, it will be criminal cases that he'll be dealing with. Having more judges, we hopefully can give more attention to cases and they can be disposed of."
With the Public Defenders Office not taking cases for six months due to its case overload, Joyce said, the average length of cases getting through the circuit courts has increased by 100-200 days.
"We need another judge in this circuit," Joyce said. "Reviews of the caseload in this circuit have shown for several years that we need another 21/2 judges to adequately serve this circuit.
"When you look at rankings, we're probably either the first or second in the state needing a new judge, especially when you have the Capitol here, all the state offices and employment discrimination cases going through here — it puts us behind where we should be."
Lawmakers in 1999 added a circuit judge's job and removed one associate circuit judge, effective in 2003. That gave Cole County three circuit judges and one associate circuit judge — and Joyce, in 2002, was elected to the new six-year seat.
"The Legislature passed legislation two years ago to add 10 additional circuit judges, and the last two years, not one of them has been financed," she said. "It's in the statute to do it; it's just whether they get the appropriation."
During Tuesday's Cole County Commission meeting, commissioners said they hoped to have discussions with judges, prosecutors and law enforcement about trying to speed up cases through the system. This is mainly due to the costs for the county to house prisoners.
As part of this year's county budget approved earlier this month, the commission signed memorandums of understanding giving offices with special revenue funds the ability to hire more people.
One of those offices was the prosecuting attorney's office, allowing the hiring of a full-time assistant prosecutor and a part-time investigator. The $104,366 for these positions will be paid out of the prosecutor's delinquent tax fund and administrative handling cost fund.
Commissioners decided Tuesday to wait to decide on request from Prosecutor Mark Richardson for an additional MOU to hire one more assistant prosecutor.
"We can hire all the prosecutors, but if it's not helping the system, I don't know if it's a good thing," Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle said.
Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said he understood an extra prosecutor would help "move cases along."
"We've hired more people, and we should get more done," Scheperle said. "I want everybody to work together to fix the problem. I want to make sure the citizens are safe, but also that we speedily get people to trial and are not just having them keep sitting in jail. They sit in jail at $50 a day for 10 days, that's $500 and that could be as much as their bail. If we get people out of jail and backfill with federal prisoners, we make more money."
Joyce said: "People have to have proper representation when they go to court. If you want people to get processed through the system, you've got to have adequate funding for the Public Defender Office."
And that's a state budget issue.
While the county pays the costs of the prosecutor's office, the public defenders are included in the statewide budget.
Joyce has had two hearings with Richardson and Public Defender Justin Carver about trying to address the issue in Cole County, but no solution has been reached so far.