The top legal officials in Kendall County have outlined a dire courthouse staffing situation to county officials, citing soaring case loads, constant 12-hour work days and overall staff burnout.
State’s Attorney Eric Weis and Public Defender Victoria Chuffo are requesting four additional staff members to relieve the burden on their offices.
Flanked by Chief Judge Robert Pilmer during a Thursday, July 15 county board finance committee meeting in Yorkville, Weis and Chuffo warned of turnover and lawsuits if the board fails to provide funding for the new hires.
“I cannot keep those people there running 12 hour shifts and expect them to stay there,” Weis said of his team. “We have maintained as best we can with the numbers that we have for a very, very, very long time.”
Weis asked the finance committee to consider funding an additional assistant state’s attorney and a paralegal, with annual salaries of $85,000 and $50,000, respectively. The state’s attorney has not increased staff in eight years, Weis noted, with the criminal division alone not boosting its numbers since before 2010.
“I’ve never come to the county board and asked for money during the year for anything,” Weis said. “I’ve never gone over budget. I’ve never asked for additional funds.”
At the public defender’s office, two attorney’s are leaving in the coming weeks, including first assistant Courtney Transier, who has worked in the office for 15 years.
“She’s burnt out basically,” Public Defender Chuffo said, saying the same of the other outgoing assistant attorney.
A five-person team, the office has not added new positions since 2014 although its case load increases every year.
The county’s public defender added that handling misdemeanor traffic and juvenile cases remains her office’s largest burden. Attorneys in the misdemeanor traffic unit used to handle about 200 cases every month. Chuffo says that monthly number now totals between 500 and 600.
“In the public defender world word travels fast with every county,” Chuffo said. “They know my case load, so I’m not getting people that are looking to come from the other counties.
Worst yet, if staff relief doesn’t come soon, the public defender’s office could run the risk of being sued for ineffective assistance of council and malpractice.
“It’s just not feasible for each attorney to give maybe a half hour, 45 minutes on a case,” Chuffo added. “It’s hard and that’s why people are leaving.”
Though finance chair Matt Kellogg wanted to review numbers before sending the item to the rest of the county board for discussion, the finance committee’s other two members in attendance, Brian DeBolt and Scott Gengler, insisted on fast-tracking legal staffing to their colleagues.
Of particular importance to county officials is securing legal review for spending a $25 million federal stimulus that must comply to the letter of the law.
“I don’t have anybody else to send you,” Weis advised county officials of stimulus legal review. “If that means you don’t get to loan the money out for a while... The loans are not as important to me as the rapist, the murderer, the domestic violence, the drunk driver.”
Yet the stimulus money is directly linked to staffing shortages at the courthouse. Local governments are permitted to allocate funds to handle case backlogs caused by the pandemic, a point Weis did not shy away from mentioning.
“Given the unique circumstances of a worldwide pandemic and some funding opportunities that may be able, yeah, would I like to strike while the iron’s hot? Absolutely,” Weis remarked.