Worcester County

COVID-19 pandemic creates case backlog in MA courts

At the Worcester County Courthouse, the COVID-19 mask mandate, along with other COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, are still in place, but the court’s business is moving forward.

Trials and hearings, for example, are taking place.

But for two years, as the city of Worcester raced to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, work in the courthouse ground almost to a halt, causing real delays in moving cases forward.

Since 2019, the caseload for the Worcester Courthouse’s Victims Witness Advocates jumped more than 71 percent.

“I think everyone gets stymied or frustrated. It’s not by lack of funding from the legislature, or the governor or the lieutenant governor, it’s the fact that COVID-19 hit, there’s so many unknowns. All of a sudden people were positive and things came to a screeching halt,” Worcester County DA Joseph Early told me.

“We talk about the statistics, but behind every one of the 71 percent is a person, and they have their own lives they need to lead and go about their own business and want to put this behind them,” added First Assistant DA Ed Karcasinas.

It’s not just Worcester.

In Middlesex County, the number of active cases  jumped by more than six thousand in the last two years.

In Norfolk County, there’s a backlog of homicide cases going to trial because for much of the pandemic, there were no courtrooms in Norfolk County that could accommodate a jury.

The wheels of justice have always, notoriously, turned slowly. With COVID-19, they are slower still.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. Not just for the defendant, but for the victims of the crimes,” said DA Early. “We got to do everything we can to move these cases forward because the victims really are, to us, the most important part of our system.”

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