Washington officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, are criticizing the D.C. Superior Court for the backlog in cases they cite as a cause for the city’s recent surge in gun violence.
Officials say the court has a backlog of 10,000 cases because of the pandemic; 500 of those cases are felonies. The release of suspects, they say, may be leading to more violence.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to let stand information that suggests that the court hasn’t been open and hasn’t been working,” said Anita Josey-Herring, D.C. Superior Court Judge.
The D.C. Superior Court judges say they are working through that backlog, conducting proceedings and trials at a slower rate because of COVID-19 precautions, including social distancing.
"I think it’s an overly simplistic analysis to say one entity is responsible for the crime happening in the city,” Josey-Herring said. “I don’t believe finger pointing will get the city in a better place."
D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Juliet McKenna said the court has 25 courtrooms in normal operations prior to the pandemic, a capacity under which they are operating now.
“I just don’t want people to walk away with the idea that the criminal division has not been functioning,” McKenna said.
Bowser said she wishes the judges would share her sense of urgency in fully reopening the courts.
"Anything I say is not meant to lay blame or finger point, but I have an obligation to tell the community when something isn’t working,” Bowser said. “The system isn’t working."
One man said that he has been trying to get a case resolved for a year.
“Everything’s been closed,” he said. “Just been a mess, the last year and a half.”
One woman said that she had an issue with a restraining order she was unable to get resolved during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“I’m a veteran and a woman,” she said. “Something bad would have to happen to me for people to pay attention.”
The judges plan to reopen the criminal division to in-person full capacity in early September.