FOX 11 Investigates follow up: Addressing backlog at Marinette Co. DA's Office

A stack of files waiting to be reviewed at the Marinette County District Attorney's Office (May 2017).

MARINETTE (WLUK) -- Crime victims in Marinette County could finally get justice. Hundreds of cases had been waiting to be reviewed at the Marinette County District Attorney's Office. Now the state is doing something about it.

Over the last year, FOX 11 Investigates has reported on the backlog which had grown to about 400 cases in May.

Former district attorney Allen Brey spoke out on the issue several times saying it was due to a lack of staff and a lack of funding from the state.

"It's unconscionable to me. Morally, I can't continue," Brey told FOX 11 Investigates in May.

The office has two full-time prosecutors and one part-time prosecutor position. But the part-time position is vacant.

Less than two weeks after Brey left in early June, Governor Walker appointed Brey's assistant district attorney, DeShea Morrow, as the new Marinette County District Attorney.

FOX 11 Investigates wanted to sit down with the new district attorney to find out how she plans to address the backlog but she declined our request for an on-camera interview.

So, we filed an open records request to find out more about how the new district attorney plans to fix the backlog. FOX 11 Investigates reviewed a copy of Morrow's application for the position.

In it, she said her goal is " have referrals reviewed by an attorney within two weeks of coming into the office. It will take a lot of hard work to get there, but it is not impossible."

The first step is having a fully staffed office. This summer, Morrow hired a full-time assistant district attorney. And that vacant part-time position may soon be converted into a full-time position.

"We are committed to make sure not only is she successful but the people of Marinette County get swift justice like they deserve," State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) told FOX 11. Nygren is the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.

The new budget includes funding for a part-time, special prosecutor for Marinette County, which would basically make the current part-time position into a full-time position. That would give the county three, full-time prosecutors. The new state position is for two-years and is designed to specifically deal with the backlog.

"Two years may be actually too long but we wanted to make sure that she was given the resources that she needs so the office can get back to where they should be. And then after that, the position goes away," Nygren said.

That is welcome news for county leaders.

"If they go ahead and do what they say they're going to do that would be wonderful," Marinette County Supervisor Cheryl Wruk told FOX 11 Investigates. Wruk says the county has talked about picking up the cost of a part-time prosecutor, but decided to wait and see if the state funding came through.

"People would like to see justice carried out in a more prudent way and more timely manner instead of having to sit and wait and wonder when is my case going to be heard," Wruk said.

Former district attorney Allen Brey says the funding is a step in the right direction.

"Something is better than nothing," he said.

Brey hired Morrow as an assistant district attorney. He says she is a talented lawyer who will do well. But he says the office needs to be properly staffed.

"I have confidence that she will do what needs to be done with the resources she has. But when you don't have all of the resources that you need there are limits to what you can do," Brey said.

But Nygren blames Brey for the backlog saying in a news release that the backlog was "...the direct result of mismanagement and political grandstanding."

"I actually think he made the problem worse than it needed to be and that's why we're addressing it," Nygren told FOX 11.

"All that can happen to me now is people like John Nygren are going to criticize me for their own political ends. That's fine. I'm not running for anything. I could care less," Brey said.

While the finger-pointing continues, the new district attorney is left to deal with the reality of the office and the challenges that lie ahead.

"We just want to assure that our citizens of Marinette County get the service and the justice that they deserve," Nygren said.

"Will it be better? Of course, it has to be better," Brey said.

Marinette County is not the only place dealing with this issue. In fact, in May, the Attorney General's Office said nearly all the district attorney's offices in the state are struggling to keep up with the growing workload.

With the exception of Marinette, the budget does not add prosecutors. Instead, the budget includes additional funding to give raises to assistant district attorneys across the state in hopes to keeping experienced prosecutors on the job.

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