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Archive for Monday, October 4, 2004

Court addresses speedy-trial issue

October 4, 2004

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— A new criminal department at Wyandotte County District Court aims to hasten the movement of criminal cases.

The court now has four judges assigned exclusively to criminal cases, unlike the previous system in which most cases went before different judges as they progressed through the system.

The change comes two years after the revelation that at least 21 felony cases in the Wyandotte County court had been dismissed over a five-year period because they failed to meet the state's speedy-trial statutes.

"I am just totally confident that this new system is going to be substantially more efficient than the way we have done it in the past," said Wyandotte County Administrative Judge Philip Sieve. "Now each one of these judges is going to have their own docket they are responsible for handling and moving."

The system is similar to those already in place in Johnson, Leavenworth and Douglas counties in Kansas and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri.

Under the system, a single judge is assigned a case from start to finish, including setting trial dates. It's a significant change from the previous system in Wyandotte County.

Previously, three judges handled cases in the early stages of a trial, then each case was put on hold until it could be randomly assigned to any of about 12 District Court judges. If the case was continued, it again was put on hold until reassigned. The only exception was for capital murder cases.

The Kansas City Star uncovered the apparent consequences of that system in a 2002 investigation that made public the dismissal of several felony cases because of delays in getting them to trial.

Sieve has said creating the new department would help the county avoid dismissing cases over speedy-trial lapses because both the prosecutor and a judge would be monitoring case progress.

Wyandotte County's longtime district attorney, Nick Tomasic, called the change long overdue.

"I'm in favor of this 100 percent," he said. "I've been advocating this for 20 to 25 years."

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