Case backlog floods county Circuit Court

The Hood River Circuit Court docket is crowded with a backlog of cases caused by a state funding deficit earlier this year.

From March 1 to July 1, Oregon courts were unable to pay attorney fees for lower income defendents. In Hood River that left prosecutors unable to pursue charges against suspects in 79 cases. In limbo were most burglary, drug, forgery, theft, fraud and other Class C felonies.

Hood River District Attorney John Sewell expects that some of these individuals will not show up for their appointed day in court. That will force his office not only to add the processing of delayed cases to the regular workload, but spend even more time to pursue arrest warrants.

Jack Morris, who holds the prime contract as a court-appointed attorney in Hood River, has brought several new staffers onboard to deal with the added volume of clientele.

“There’s going to be a bulge in the pipe line for the next few months, but we’ve got a pretty well-functioning court system so we should be able to get through this,” said Morris.

He said Hood River’s legal authorities maintain a high level of professionalism that has kept operations running smoothly through the recent challenge. One of the agreed-upon mitigation measures has been to convene court on Wednesday mornings to process more arraignments.

“This whole situation (state budget) hasn’t made a lot of sense, but we have some very competent people working at this courthouse that are trying to overcome all of these obstacles,” Morris said.

In March, a $10.3 million shortfall in the state court system budget halted the appointment of attorneys for suspects unable to pay their own legal fees. Although arrests were still made and formal charges filed, defendents were given a return court date and the proceedings came to a standstill. In addition, court offices closed on Friday during the four-month period to make up for an additional loss of $3.6 million in the Oregon Judicial Department’s operating budget.

Chuck Wall, administrator for the Seventh Judicial District which encompasses Hood River County, said the nine employees in his office have returned to a full work schedule.

However, he said more funding cuts could be coming as the Oregon Legislature struggles to finalize its 2003-05 biennium budget.

He is unsure how any cuts will play out but is determined to keep the local court system running as efficiently as possible.

“We’re living day-to-day and watching our pennies so that we don’t make any expenditures until we know what level we’re going to be funded at,” Wall said.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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