During the St. Francois County Commission’s regular session Tuesday at the courthouse annex, St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Gilliam requested additional staff to deal with some changes in Missouri laws that have come into effect this year.
“I am asking for two additional positions in my office,” she said. “The first is going to be an attorney and the second is for a legal secretary position to support that attorney. The legal secretary duties, we’ve changed them a little since I took office, there’s a few things additional that weren’t done before."
Gilliam said that, under statute, her office is required to redact victim information from police reports.
"Not only do we have to redact it for the defense attorney, then we have to completely redact it for the defendant," she said. "We have to take one police report and take that information out in order to prevent identity theft. …We don’t want the defendant to know what your home address is. That had never been done before. So, now we are making both copies as required by Missouri Supreme Court rules. That takes time.”
Another problem for Gilliam’s office is the recent closing of the Fine Collection Center that handled the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s tickets in the area.
“The Fine Collection Center was operating in the state of Missouri up to May of this year,” she said. “Every county in the state of Missouri was a member of the Fine Collection Center. What that meant was, any traffic tickets written by the Missouri State Highway Patrol was sent to that center. At the beginning of this year, they figured out that for any criminal case or infraction to be filed, it has to be signed by the prosecuting attorney. That was not happening with this Fine Collection Center. Every ticket that used to go through them, now comes to us. That is a significant increase.”
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Gilliam explained that since May, her office has handled about 400 of those tickets as a new responsibility. She estimated that there will be at least 1,000 more traffic tickets that will require an additional attorney and support staff dedicated solely to handling those duties. In addition, the Office of State Courts Administrator changed some of the rules on how some of those tickets are filed.
“Now, on no-insurance cases, speeding over 25 mph, driving without a valid license, those all have to be filed as a criminal case” she said. “That has increased our dockets exponentially.”
Another problem for Gilliam is a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling that changed how bonds are handled.
“As of July 1, 2019, the presumption on any felony case is that a summons is issued for the defendant’s arrest, not a warrant,” she said. “It’s on the prosecuting attorney’s office to present a probable-cause statement to the judge in order to justify holding this person in custody, to issue a warrant for their arrest and have a bond assigned to them.
"Anyone who is arrested and does have a bond set, the court must review that bond within 48 hours. That increases our docket list as well. Then, after the 48 hours, the court shall review it seven days after if the person remains incarcerated. There’s a lot more work going on, and that is one of the reasons why we are coming in and asking for an additional attorney and for support staff.”
In a comparison, Gilliam pointed out that Jefferson County has 15 prosecutors compared to St. Francois County’s five, equaling a third of the amount of prosecutors. In 2018, St. Francois County filed over half as many felony cases, almost half as many misdemeanors and over a third as many traffic cases.