SALINA — Saline County in central Kansas has seen an increase in violent crime, and the county attorney said despite budget cuts she may need to hire another attorney to handle the growing caseload.
Saline County, which has its county seat in Salina, has eight murder and two attempted-murder cases pending in court, along with several sex offense cases and three cases in which people are accused of injuring babies.
The county attorney's office also prosecutes property crimes, traffic infractions, domestic cases, drug cases and handles juvenile and children-in-need-of-care cases.
"I think there's been a lot of conversation in the community about the increase in violent crime and what's happening here," Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell said. "If we continue to have these type of high-level violent felonies, another attorney is inevitable. It will have to happen."
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Mitchell stressed that she is "not saying the sky is falling," noting none of the violent crimes involve violence against strangers and some of the same people are suspects in multiple cases.
Her staff has been working nights and weekends to stay caught up with the cases and rotates 24-hour, on-call shifts to review search warrants, go to a crime scene or answer police officers' questions, she said.
Mitchell said she and her current staff of five attorneys can meet case deadlines — if no one is sick, on vacation or arguing before the Kansas Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.
She and Christina Trocheck, an assistant county attorney, plan to prosecute all of the pending murder and attempted murder cases except one, which will be handled by the Kansas Attorney General's Office.
Trocheck said she and Mitchell prefer to handle the prosecutions, rather than ask the Attorney General's Office for help.
Still, the caseload is rapidly becoming "way too serious and overwhelming" for the current staff, Trocheck said.
"I can't think of any other county attorney or district attorney's office in the state with an equivalent work load," Trocheck said. Larger offices have more attorneys and smaller offices don't have as many violent crimes, she said.
Like other county department heads, Mitchell has been told to reduce her office's expenses because of falling tax revenues. But she said county commissioners have been "open-minded and receptive" to her concerns.
Through July 2010, 881 adult felony and misdemeanor criminal cases had been filed in Saline County, according to court records. Last year, 1,311 adult criminal cases were filed, and in 2008 the total was 1,467.
And Mitchell added, even after a trial is over, many verdicts are appealed. In 2009, 43 appeals of Saline County District Court decisions were docketed, and so far this year, 32 have been.
"Some of these cases just never go away," Mitchell said.