By Becky Killian / Managing Editor
The first shots have been fired in the Whitley County attorney race with Don Moses citing the former location of the child support office and a backlog of cases as reasons for not electing one of his opponents.
The target is candidate Bob Hammons, a former two-term county attorney and assistant county attorney who said he is “disappointed” that Moses would imply he wouldn’t handle cases efficiently and maintained it is best for the county attorney to have offices in both the county’s cities to best serve the people.
Moses, Hammons and Graham Trimble have each filed to run in the Whitley County attorney’s race and will appear on the republican ballot for the May 22 primary election.
Moses provided the Times-Tribune with a lengthy report he said was generated by the Whitley County Circuit Clerk’s Office to show all open cases handled by his office.
The report, dated Jan. 12, shows 4,802 cases including 708 felonies, 1,234 misdemeanors and 2,860 traffic cases. Some of the cases date back to 2000.
Moses said after he was appointed to the office by Whitley County Judge/Executive Pat White to fill the vacancy left by the appointment of former county attorney Paul Winchester to the 34th Circuit Court judge’s seat, he found the county attorney’s office in a “shambles.”
“Very early on during the course of my activities as county attorney, I ran across a case from 2000 that was an unemployment fraud case. It shocked me that the case had been continued for 12 years,” Moses said.
During a preliminary hearing, Moses said the defense asked for another continuance on behalf of the defendant in that case, Karen Faye Sutton. Moses said he objected, asking that the preliminary hearing continue or that it be waved to the grand jury. The judge agreed and remanded Sutton to custody, with Moses saying bond was set at an amount roughly equivalent to the restitution needed in the case. The case ended a couple days later when Moses said Sutton paid the bond of just over $3,000.
Not long after the Sutton case was resolved, Moses said he saw a couple more cases on the docket that dated back about 10 years which led him to request the report.
Referring to that report, Moses said “Those have accumulated since about the time that Mr. Winchester and Mr. Hammons took office.”
Some of the cases on the report list David W. Burton as the judge. Moses said he suspects those cases that list Burton, who is deceased, as well as then-district Judge Kimberly Frost-Wilson, have likely seen little activity. He also said some of the cases could be unresolved because the defendants failed to appear or might be fugitives. Some defendants might also have died since the cases were initiated.
“Now, Mr. Hammons has indicated that he has all these years of experience as chief assistant and you will notice the backlog started to accumulate about the time he became chief assistant county attorney and has continued to grow through the years,” Moses said.
When asked about the backlog, Hammons said he has a plan to address the issue and that he disagrees the case load would be backlogged if he is elected.
“I am very disappointed that he (Moses) would make that remark,” Hammons said.
Hammons proposes periodic reviews of the cases at least once a quarter involving judges, victims, defendants, their attorneys, and the clerk’s office. He also wants to reduce multiple court appearances by assessing each case to determine which require adjudication and those cases in which the defendant simply wants no further contact with the accused.
“I would like to make the court system user friendly for the victims and the witness,” Hammons said.
Hammons also said Moses could have been the defense attorney for some of the older cases on the list and questioned Moses’ role in those cases being delayed.
When asked, Moses said he hasn’t looked at the individual cases to determine those in which he may have served as defense attorney. He also said he may have asked for continuances from time to time as defense attorney but that it was still the county attorney’s responsibility to prosecute those cases.
On his part, Moses said he has already talked to the district judges who have agreed to start pretrial conferences and preliminary hearings in Williamsburg in the morning rather than the afternoon as of the first Monday in May. He said this will allow more time to process cases since there are sometimes delays in the public defenders arriving in court because they are being called in multiple cases in different courtrooms.
Moses said there is no “one size fits all” strategy for dealing with the cases and that they will have to be handled individually.
Each of the candidates said he would aggressively prosecute DUI cases.
An August story in the Times-Tribune indicated that a report generated by the state showed Whitley County as leading the Tri-County area in the number of DUI cases that had aged beyond 90 days.
Trimble cited the story, saying the county’s DUI conviction rate needs to be improved. He also said he is aware of a backlog of all cases which he estimated may number in the hundreds.
“It’s not getting any better,” Trimble said.
Trimble’s proposal to remedy the backlog is to have more trial dates.
Calls to Winchester’s office seeking comment were not returned.