Ralls County ranked number one in the state for fastest case disposition

The Tenth Judicial Circuit received acclaim for its efficiency with disposing criminal cases from the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC), with each county in the circuit ranking in the top ten across the Show Me State.

Tenth Circuit Presiding Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd said MAC’s results reflected details like the level of teamwork from everyone working throughout the circuit, technology like videoconferencing for criminal and civil cases and an abundance of available court dates. She said she enjoys hosting circuit-wide celebrations for the Daniel O’Toole Award during each of the past six years — the Tenth Circuit was one of only two in the state to satisfy all ten time standards for civil and criminal cases. The MAC distinctions are the latest recognitions for all the Circuit’s members who consistently strive for efficiency.

Marion County Prosecuting Attorney David Clayton said MAC totals applied solely to criminal cases. MAC’s figures for average days from filing to sentence differed slightly from the averages compiled annually by the Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA), Shepherd said. OSCA is the administrative arm for the Missouri Supreme Court, and representatives from that agency announced the O’Toole Award the Circuit celebrated for a sixth consecutive year in December.

MAC averages from filing to sentencing for a criminal case were broken down by county — Ralls County ranked number one with an average of 31 days, Monroe County was second with 43 days, and Marion County ranked eighth at 81 days. The state average is 191 days, and Clayton noted that his office filed more than 1,000 cases in 2016 and 900 cases in 2017. He said cases that are “especially heinous in nature” — such as a murder case — and similar cases are excluded from the averages. He noted that the efficiency in Marion County reflects the expediency displayed throughout the Tenth Circuit. Shepherd said the Tenth Circuit ranked number one in the state for disposing criminal cases in 2017, based on OSCA’s annual reports.

“There are 114 counties in Missouri,” Clayton said. “We’re number eight in the state in fastest resolutions. These numbers show we’re moving our criminal dockets more expeditiously than 106 other counties in the state.”

Shepherd said that whether the courts were handling a criminal or civil case, there are variety of reasons for the efficient response.

“Having very consistent court dates allows the attorneys and the judge to have ongoing communication about how the case is progressing,” she said. “I think that’s been very helpful to keep everybody aware of what the status of the case is and how it can move forward in the most efficient way.”

Shepherd commended all of the court staff members throughout the Circuit and the attorneys who work with them to keep the legal process moving forward, noting “our Bar Association is tremendous.” Case management hearings are an example of ways to stay on top of pertinent details.

“When a case is ready, we’re happy to find time on the calendar to have the case disposed of,” she said.

She said those dates often come on a law day, but court staff officials are ready to work with attorneys and circuit clerk staff to schedule a special setting for resolving a case.

Shepherd said the MAC results and the O’Toole Awards reflect a team effort that extends to each staff member in the Marion County Courthouses in Hannibal and Palmyra, the Monroe County Courthouse in Paris and the Ralls County Courthouse in New London.

Ralls County Circuit Clerk Gina Jameson said that everyone works together to follow local court rules designed to move the legal process forward.

“I’m very proud of my staff and we very much consider ourself a team with a goal of serving the citizens as a top priority,” she said.

Clayton agreed.

“Everyone in our local justice system works very hard and efficiently. From the Judges and their staff, to the associate and circuit clerks, to the arresting officers and jail staff and the prosecutor’s staff and many in the defense bar, all communicate frequently to resolve matters,” he said. “I think we all have very good communication, which is so important when dealing with a high volume of cases.”

Shepherd stressed that the O’Toole Award is a “Circuit Award,” and she said everyone deserves recognition for their contributions each year. The MAC distinctions reinforced the fact that everyone in the Circuit is dedicated to working hard toward the same goal. Clayton said that reports of murder cases or rare instances can sometimes spark an incorrect public perception that cases drag on for an extended period of time. He said the rapid pace of weekly court would come as a surprise to many people.

“Each officer and staffer is an essential part of the mechanism,” he said. “It’s not a perfect system, but we all work hard to provide our county the most with what we have.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com