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Officials try idea to expedite caseload



Published: Thu, September 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Two prosecutors per courtroom should also lead to more plea bargains.

By ROGER G. SMITH

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County is adding an assistant prosecutor to each of its five common pleas courtrooms to speed justice and trim the jail population.

The idea is that the faster cases are processed, the faster inmates either are sent to state prison, sentenced to alternative punishments or set free, said county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains.

"Trying cases is labor intensive. You can't try cases without the lawyers," he said.

He, common pleas judges and county commissioners agree that extra assistant prosecutors are one step toward thinning the jail population in the coming months, Gains said Wednesday.

The new strategy will be a major point in the county's Oct. 1 report to the special federal master overseeing the jail and its overcrowding issues, Gains said.

County commissioners today were to appropriate $190,000 to pay for the new assistant prosecutors through the end of the year.

The new prosecutors should be in courtrooms by Oct. 1, Gains said.

Reasoning behind move

One reason the jail is under federal oversight is inmates who linger there waiting for trial.

Having two assistant prosecutors per courtroom will leave a pair of cases ready for trial at all times, Gains said. If one trial falls through, prosecutors and defense lawyers in another trial will be ready to go, he said.

"I'm going to make sure my lawyers are ready for trial, an A case and a B case," Gains said.

Judges, who are frustrated by delayed trials, too, have agreed to go along, Gains said. Robert Rupeka, the court administrator, said judges are approaching the move optimistically and support the prosecutor's efforts to improve the system.

The result should be trials that occur more quickly and more plea deals, Gains said.

Defense lawyers know that trial delays are likely so they aren't prepared for cases as early as they could be, he said. There should be more plea deals when defense lawyers know there is a good chance the trial date is solid, he said.

"If they know it's going to happen, they'll be prepared," Gains said.

The approach of having two cases ready to be heard in each court works at the federal level and in counties like nearby Summit, Gains said.

The expectation is that processing more cases will have a demonstrable affect on the jail, boosting the county's case for a sales tax renewal on the ballot in 2007, he said.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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