In an effort to reduce a backlog of cases awaiting Grand Jury review, the Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court has instituted a new “Pandemic Response Docket.”
Under this docket, certain low-level, non-violent cases can bypass the grand jury process and move toward a speedier resolution. The Court mails eligibility letters to individuals who meet the criteria for the docket. If they opt in, those individuals are assigned a lawyer on their designated arraignment date, or they can hire counsel. The case is then randomly assigned to a Judge and attorneys for both sides can begin working toward a resolution.
If a person declines to participate, the case returns to the Prosecutor’s office for presentation to a Grand Jury. The first Pandemic Response Docket cases were heard on March 2, 2021.
“The pandemic has caused a backlog of cases awaiting the grand jury, and we are trying to think outside the box,” says Administrative and Presiding Judge Brendan J. Sheehan. “The attorneys are selected at arraignment from our assigned counsel list and from the staff of the Public Defender’s office.”
The docket has the support of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley and Public Defender Cullen Sweeney. The Cuyahoga County Defense Lawyers Association (CCDLA) is also involved in the project.
Judge Sheehan, Mr. O’Malley, Mr. Sweeney, and Nancy Jamieson, the President of the CCDLA, invited the entire criminal bar to a Zoom meeting on February 25, to introduce the docket and how it would work. O’Malley said his team was prepared to work with defense attorneys to try and resolve cases.
Judge Sheehan emphasized that these are not cases of violence. “These are people accused of low-level felonies who would likely see little or no jail time. Our goal is to keep the justice system moving by giving those accused an option to speed up the process.”
At this time, Judge Sheehan sees no reason to believe that jury trials will not resume on the scheduled date of April 26. However, the Judges continue to meet regularly to discuss COVID-19 updates and the impact on that trial resumption date.