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Inside the Courts: More thoughts on our local court system

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 27th, 2012

Ed Close

Here at the Uinta County Herald, we have received both praise and condemnation for our extended police and courts coverage. We accept both as valid opinions. Every citizen has a right to their feelings and thoughts, and the right to read or not read our entire paper or any part of it they choose. It is still our goal and duty to inform the citizens of Uinta County on important issues, and if you are a victim of a crime, you have just as many rights as someone who isn’t.

As a reporter who spends a great deal of time in the courts, it is my obligation to report news that impacts our cities, towns and rural areas. That’s my job. I take that obligation seriously, as do the editor and the publisher of the Herald.

In my last article on the subject of “a view of the courts,” which appeared in the Nov. 16 Herald, I tried to give an overall view of what passes through our court systems, and some of the costs related to criminal behavior that we all pay. In this second article, I am moving into my viewpoints on aspects of what our judicial system faces.

I believe there are career criminals out there who need to be separated from society. There is no doubting that reality, I believe, and there are also scourges on society like methamphetamine, heroin and alcohol that help create these criminals. You may think alcohol should not be among these scourges, but there are a great many cases before the courts that are alcohol-related.

These drugs create unbelievable problems and misery for every one of us, even if we are not directly connected to the offenders or victims in these cases. These criminal activities and their results cost us all a lot of money, which we should be able to use for more productive and enjoyable things.

Like most problems facing society, I believe the real solution lies in education and the removal from the public of as many of the seriously criminally-minded as possible. That’s what our court system does — it sorts through a flood of cases and tries to do the job at hand. It is a daunting task.

It is true there are flaws in our judicial system, but at this moment in time it is one of the best systems in the world, and the one we have at our disposal. It takes a lot of people to keep our streets as safe as they are, and I am grateful the system is working as well as it is. The alternative is chaos and anarchy.

It may seem Uinta County is separate, away from the majority of criminal behavior, but these problems are nationwide. Illegal drugs and contraband flow along I-80 —from coast to coast — and certain occupations within and around Uinta County lend themselves to the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

These things may not be standing like statues in our parks or in our front yards, but they are all around us. If it were not for the legal system we have, we would be inundated very rapidly by criminal elements. A visit to our local courts would give you a clearer picture of what really goes on in our courts and our communities.

Most family violence cases there involve either illegal drugs or alcohol, or both. And many burglaries and thefts are drug-related, as well.

The county attorney’s office handles the prosecution of the avalanche of criminal cases that passes through the court systems within Uinta County. On any given day of the week, the prosecutors will handle anywhere from one to six cases in circuit court alone, and that does not include bench trials, jury trials and simple traffic violations that end up in court.

The mountain of paperwork handled by these attorneys and the clerks of the courts is never-ending. That paperwork takes hundreds of hours a week to process. One attorney and one clerk could never handle the load, and that is the reason we have so many clerks and attorneys working within our court systems.

We get involved when cases of a criminal nature end up before the courts, attending the court proceedings and reporting on them. This is what you see in the newspaper, and it may be simple and quick to read, but it takes hours of waiting, note taking and active listening to court case after court case to keep the public informed.

More hours are spent behind closed doors negotiating plea agreements, detailing cases before and after they go to court, and a multitude of other duties that must be completed in conjunction with the judges in order to follow the letter of the law. There are at least six clerks working full time in Third District Court, and five full-time clerks for the circuit court. There are also cases in city court, and some that make it all the way to federal court. The city court is also inundated by these same procedures and processes, so we have need for those clerks and court personnel as well.

I firmly believe the idea that our court system in Uinta County is not doing enough is a mistaken notion. Our courts are doing all they can within the boundaries of the very laws they enforce. The caseloads of all the courts within Uinta County, including the Bridger Valley, are enormous compared to the population base.

Even though legitimate businesses that work in the oilfields and gas fields surrounding our county have drug-testing policies in place, drug use in the fields is higher than the drug use one would normally see in such a sparsely-populated area.

Along with that problem, we are a thoroughfare for drug distributors who use I-80 as a funneling system to move illegal drugs from coast to coast, and from large metropolitan areas to large metropolitan areas such as Salt Lake City and Denver.

During the height of the harvesting season for marijuana, for instance, that illegal drug is transported out of British Columbia and other regions of Canada using our highway systems. Heroin and methamphetamine come out of and go into Salt Lake City for distribution to other areas using our highways as conduits. Some of these illegal substances end up in the hands of our residents, and have even been found to be in use in some of our schools.

This situation, however dire it may be, is not likely to go away or even decline anytime in the foreseeable future.

Herald reporter Ed Close can be reached at reporter2@uintacountyherald.com.

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