South Carolina’s judicial system is facing a backlog of tens of thousands of cases, but a dent won’t be made to reduce that growth without much-needed resources.
Increased financial support for solicitors, public defenders and clerks of court is key, but that will prove inconsequential if those resources are not used wisely and efficiently.
Providing more money to those offices is the job of the legislature, but it must be handled smartly and responsibly.
Additional funding will also not be meaningful without a comprehensive, workable plan that can produce effective results in each judicial circuit. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal is currently working on a new system for handling criminal cases, the second stab at establishing guidelines, according to the Greenville News. Toal is cobbling together a plan with solicitor’s offices around the state and two legislators who have worked as prosecutors.
Under the plan, cases would be turned over to judges if they haven’t been disposed of in a year and a half. Putting the process in the hands of judges could prove troubling since they can be in short supply, possibly clogging up the system further. In her 2013 State of the Judiciary address, Toal urged South Carolina officials to help “drain the swamp” of older cases to reduce the backlog of cases. She said by having a business approach and creating cooperative partnerships, the case load can be reduced.
The term backlog, however, is somewhat arbitrary. Everyone has the right to a speedy trial, but resolving cases is not always a linear process. A simple shoplifting case can typically be resolved routinely, but more complex cases, particularly those involving forensics, can take additional time and effort.
Being able to have each judicial decision fit neatly onto a flowchart isn’t conceivable. Consequently, flexibility in the system is a must.
Second Judicial Circuit Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr., who serves Aiken, Bamberg and Barnwell counties, explained that any recommended measure should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Each circuit should be allowed to tailor a plan to the unique needs of each circuit,” Thurmond said.
The case docket in Aiken is certainly not the same as it is in Columbia or Greenville, and setting up a blanket system would likely make circuits struggle even more.
A well-designed and effective case management system is a must in our state. Any proposal shoulder garner strong consideration to help move our judicial system in the right direction.