Last year, the county paid for additional magistrate judges to help process the cases. But staff in the clerk and marshal’s offices haven’t been able to keep up now that judges are working overtime to authorize writs, the first step before a marshal’s deputy can serve and eviction notice.
Kim Brock, DeKalb’s clerk of state and magistrate court, said staff in her office are burnt out from dealing with the higher caseloads. The clerks are responsible for scheduled cases and processing judge’s orders in all cases, not just those involving evictions. Her office was running eight calendars a week before the pandemic and now is staffing 18 calendars.
“And we’re still behind,” Brock told commissioners earlier this month.
On the marshal’s side, taking over court security responsibilities from the sheriff’s office has left fewer staff to help give eviction notices at the same time judges have been issuing more writs. The marshal’s office has a backlog of about 3,500 eviction cases, Marshal Kevin Richardson told commissioners earlier this month.
In addition to adding deputies, Richardson’s office requested funding for body cameras, uniforms and equipment. Richardson, who took office in July, said deputies hired last year don’t have tasers. And the company that maintains the department’s body cameras is threatening to cut them off for non-payment.
Richardson said his department has been “scraping” to get by.
The additional funding will also help the clerk’s office be more responsive to callers. The department has one receptionist who answers between 800 and 900 calls a week, Brock said. But many are going unanswered and that creates stress for people who have questions about their court cases.
All of the positions are expected to be permanent but the budget adjustment approved by commissioners only covers for the remaining three months of the year. The positions are expected to be incorporated into next year’s budget. Even after the backlog is addressed, Brock said, a larger staff will help ensure the courts run smoothly.