Photo: Washington County
A collaboration of criminal justice partners in Washington County has developed an innovative way to clear a large backlog of criminal cases caused by COVID-19 restricted court operations ordered by the Oregon Chief Justice and Washington County Presiding Judge in March of 2020. These partners include the Washington County Circuit Court, Washington County District Attorney’s Office, criminal defense bar, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Board of Commissioners and multiple county departments.
On Wednesday, October 14, the Washington County Circuit Court began hearing cases at the Wingspan Event & Conference Center located at Westside Commons, formerly known as the Washington County Fairgrounds. In cooperation with the Washington County Board of Commissioners, the Washington County Circuit Court and our local criminal justice system is benefiting from CARES Act federal funding which has been used to create two socially distanced temporary courtrooms, dubbed “Wingspan Court.” This marks the first official event held at the brand-new facility, which has been closed due to COVID-19.
This effort seeks to clear a backlog of more than 600 lower-level felony and misdemeanor criminal cases that have been delayed over the past six months due to COVID-19 court restricted operations. In the first eight days of operation at “Wingspan Court,” prosecutors with the district attorney’s office, working collaboratively with defense attorneys and the court, were able to resolve 123 cases.
“I’m proud of the work done not only by my staff, but also all of our partners in the court, defense bar, sheriff’s office and Washington County. This is a good example of taxpayer resources being put to good use in the interest of public safety and efficiency,” said Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton.
“This effort is the result of strong collaboration with our criminal justice partners. While we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Wingspan Court is a creative and safe way to clean up our backlogged cases. I’m confident, as we move forward, the court will continue to ensure our justice system provides these essential services to our community,” said Washington County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Beth Roberts.
“I’m extremely pleased that we’ve been able to work with Washington County’s Justice Services partners to meet this critical community need through the “Wingspan Court”. By utilizing this available space, we’re not only addressing the rights of defendants to a “speedy trial” during the coronavirus pandemic but also improving our response time for crime victims who are seeking justice and resolution,” said Washington County Board Chair Kathryn Harrington.
While this innovative approach is effective, it is only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. Federal CARES Act money expires at the end of this year. Additionally, the Washington County Circuit Court has been operating at full capacity for several years and state funding has not kept up with our growing population.
Source: Washington County Court