The number of cases filed in Benton County District Court this year is down from recent years, while Superior Court case filings are up, the county's public defense manager said Tuesday.
In District Court, 3,290 cases were filed through May -- down 11 percent when compared with the midyear average for 2010-13.
Eric Hsu, who oversees the office of public defense, said the legalization of recreational marijuana likely is a factor, adding that the dip in the case filings is "a trend that started in 2013, continued this year and looks like it might continue into the future."
Meanwhile, 637 cases were filed in Superior Court this year through May, compared with the mid-year average of 584 for 2010-13.
Attorneys not only are seeing more cases in Superior Court but also more complex ones. "The general trend is toward more complicated cases. That's why we're really emphasizing training. I want to make sure our defenders are as well-trained as they can be," Hsu told the Herald.
That has meant sessions on topics from crime scene forensics to computer forensics. A staff defender also is going through training to be able to take on death penalty cases.
Hsu's midyear report covered his office's operations in Benton County. He also oversees public defense in Franklin County and plans a separate report to the county commissioners during a meeting next month.
In District Court, 1,595 of the 3,290 cases filed through May were appointed to public defenders -- a drop of 12.8 percent from the 2010-13 mid-year average.
In Superior Court, public defender appointments were at 529, compared with a mid-year average of 516 for 2010-13.
Hsu's office has three staff defenders and also contracts with numerous other attorneys.
It will get a boost from the 0.3 percent public safety sales tax passed by Benton County voters on Aug. 5, with another Superior Court staff defender, another District Court contract defender and some more support staff to be added.
The tax is to take effect in January, with revenue expected to start flowing in after a couple of months. The tax expires in 10 years.
Hsu's full midyear report is available at www.bentonfranklindefense.org.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald