Chatham County DA-elect discusses case backlog, approach to handling cases

Chatham County DA-elect discusses case backlog, approach to handling cases

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s been about nine months since the last jury trial occurred in Chatham County.

And in just a few weeks, the county’s newly-elected District Attorney, Shalena Jones, will inherit thousands of cases that have been back-logged and are awaiting resolution.

The District Attorney-elect told WTOC on the felony side, it looks like there about 1,200 cases that are prepared and pending indictment once a grand jury is able to hear those cases.

And there are likely more than that due to the backlog that occurred before the pandemic.

“That means that we inherit this office with a lot more cases than we would normally have and with a lot fewer resources because of COVID court closures and such,” Jones said.

Jones took a big step this week to surround herself with a support staff to start tackling the challenges ahead by appointing her executive team, comprised of Jennifer Parker, Nathanael Wright and Michael Edwards.

“They’re all excellent attorneys who have great experience in the criminal justice arena.”

The District Attorney-elect said she’s already reached out to prosecutors she’d like to see stay, and received commitments to join her office.

We asked Jones about her strategy of prioritizing and prosecuting backlogged cases with fewer resources.

“The only way for us to get to those and make those serious cases a priority, is by freeing up resources elsewhere. So going in the door, we have to find ways to address those cases that are either, that don’t present a safety issue or hazard to our community. We have to find ways to either dismiss or divert those, and to treat them differently and get those out of the system,” Jones said.

We also asked about the challenges a newly configured, socially distanced courtroom could present for her prosecutors.

Jones said, “I believe that the prosecutors in that office are professionals and flexible and that we’ll be able to overcome these barriers. They might not be permanent, but they’ll be able to overcome them. And the citizens of this county and the American people have always been resilient and able to adapt and overcome so I think we’re going to be fine.”

The District Attorney-elect is set to be sworn in on Friday, Jan. 8 at 3 p.m., with a reception following from 6-8 p.m. The swearing-in ceremony will be live-streamed. A location is being worked out now.

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