Courthouse furloughs could delay Mireles trial

EL DORADO — The judge presiding over the capital murder case of Israel Mireles wondered Tuesday if the state's money issues could force postponement of the trial.

Butler County District Judge David Ricke said during a hearing that Mireles' trial in the killing of Emily Sanders is set to start a week before state-mandated furloughs of courthouse employees.

Furloughs are currently scheduled for nonjudicial employees around the state, unless legislators can restore $3 million in money cut from the judicial branch next year.

That would mean no bailiffs to aid jurors and no court reporter to make a record of testimony and evidence.

Sander's family has already waited more than two years for the trial.

It took 20 months to extradite Mireles from Mexico, where he was arrested three weeks after Sander was stabbed to death in November 2007.

Kansas Attorney General Steve Six told the judge that trial preparations with state law enforcement officers as witnesses would have to be repeated if the trial was continued.

"It could end up costing the state more," said Six, who is helping prosecute the case.

Ricke's best estimate about moving the trial would be before the second round of furloughs in March.

"We could try to do it between furloughs," the judge said.

But trying to move the trial by weeks could turn into months, depending on the already busy schedules of the attorneys.

Both Melanie Freeman-Johnson, Mireles' attorney, and Six's office have other death penalty cases waiting around the state.

Six's office has at least seven other death penalty cases on its docket, with proceedings already scheduled from January through June.

Tuesday, Six suggested that his office and the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit, which employs Freeman-Johnson, try to find funds to pay a freelance court reporter and hire a bailiff so the trial can proceed.

That would still come from state funds. But Six said that would be cheaper than continuing the trial.

Legislators have said they may try to restore the $3 million cut from the judicial branch budget.

If not, furloughs across the state will shut down court proceedings.

Ron Keefover, spokesman for the Office of Judicial Administration, said the courts won't know the true budget picture until the second week of January.

"But we still have to do all our trial preparations," Six said. "Then if the trial is continued, it has to be done again. That costs even more."

Salaries are 98 percent of the courts' budget.

The $112 million budget of the judicial branch represents 2 percent of the state's projected expenditures of $5.5 billion.