by Caitlin Huston
The number of case filings in Cass County went up in 2011, bucking the statewide trend of an overall decline.
In the county’s three courts, the big increases came as the number of misdemeanors rose almost 18 percent from 2010 to 2011 and the majority of felonies all rose by more than 29 percent, with a 100 percent increase in class A felonies, according to the 2011 Indiana Judicial Service Report. While court offices strained to keep up with the work, judges and prosecutors speculate that the increase was a result of the county’s poor economy and increased police work.
Statewide, Indiana saw the number of filings decrease in both civil and criminal cases from 2010 to 2011, with a 9.65 percent decrease from 1,859,870 to 1,680,412, according to the report. The total number of combined misdemeanor and felony cases dropped 3.31 percent.
From 2010 to 2011, Cass County had the biggest increases in class A felonies, which rose from 10 to 20 cases filed, followed by class B felonies, which had a 32 percent increase from 44 to 58, according to data provided by the court. The next largest increases were in class D felonies, which rose 29 percent, and misdemeanors, which rose 18 percent.
Class C felonies decreased about 6 percent from 88 to 83.
Cass County Prosecutor Kevin Enyeart said the numbers are “significant,” and pointed to the economy, which he said may be worse in Cass County than in other areas.
“I’m thinking the statewide numbers have to be related to an economic recovery,” Enyeart said.
Cass Superior Court I Judge Thomas Perrone, who oversees the small claims filings and class D felonies, also said he believed there was some correlation to the economy, and people not being able to pay for services or stealing out of need.
“You can relate some of that to the economy,” Perrone said. “People are not able to pay those bills.”
Due to the county’s decline in industrial labor, Cass Superior Court II Judge Rick Maughmer said he believes people are committing more crimes because many have lost their jobs in the past few years.
“They’ve lost their jobs, they’re continuing now to commit crimes. The relatives are now committing crimes,” Maughmer said.
Maughmer also pointed to an overall lack of educational resources and what he feels is a decline in character.
“One of the other problems is people seem to be losing their moral compass,” Maughmer said.
Outside of the economy, Cass County Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Achey said he feels the increased numbers are due to a rise in law enforcement.
Maughmer said the increase in court filings was also clearly reflected in the weighted caseload, which measures the amount of work each of the three courts is doing. A balanced number for all three courts is 3.0, Maughmer said, but in 2011 the number was at 3.73.
“The three courts are almost doing the work of three and three-fourths courts,” Maughmer said.
A large number of the cases also come from non-criminal cases like divorce proceedings and small claims, Maughmer said.
Maughmer and Perrone both said their staffs had to work hard to keep up with the work schedule.
“We have a fairly corroded schedule,” Perrone said.
Maughmer added that a high number of small claims cases and divorce proceedings fill their schedules.
The higher level felonies, in particular, weigh on the prosecutor’s office, Enyeart said.
“When you get to a higher level felony, that’s when you use a lot of resources as prosecutors,” Enyeart said.
Cass County Clerk Beth Liming also said her staff is feeling the increase in filings and just works to do what it can on a daily basis.
“You can see the increase,” Liming said.
So far in 2012, Enyeart said he believes the numbers will be “very similar” to 2011, other than a slight decrease in high-level felonies. That decrease is due to some of the 2012 drug cases going to the federal level, he said.
Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.