A new district attorney in Central Texas says his staff has discovered paperwork showing that more than 200 criminal cases had never been previously examined by prosecutors.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick said many of the cases date back to 2014 and range from sexual assaults to forgeries, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Dick took over as district attorney in January, replacing Jana Duty, who he defeated in the Republican primary last March.
Much of the paperwork discovered last month in a vacant administrative office is the basic forms that police officers submit to the district attorney's office for review, Dick said. There were a total of 218 cases that had been left unexamined.
"I was alarmed," he said. "What we didn't realize at the time was how many there were and how serious they were."
Dick believes the problem of the unexamined cases is due to the district attorney's office being short-staffed during Duty's last year in office. He had expected a three- to four-month backlog of casework when he took office, but the discovery pushes the delay to upward of six months, he said.
Compounding the problem is Dick's office must still respond to about 1,500 requests from defense attorneys over the last four months of 2016 for an explanation of evidence the office has against their clients.
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"Being behind by 1,500 individual discovery requests far exceeded the normal backlog," he said.
Duty did not respond to a request for comment on the cases and whether her office was short-staffed last year.
Dick noted that district attorneys are not aware of every case that comes into their office. "I am trying to be fair to her," he said. "Whether she should have been aware is a different question."
Jack Strickland, a deputy chief prosecutor for the Tarrant County district attorney's office from 2011 to 2014, said it's unusual for 218 cases to be left behind.
"It would really be a mess to inherit," he told the newspaper. "I think it sends the wrong message to the public that this stuff is just languishing because people don't think it's important to get to."
Dick says he's hiring additional prosecutors to help with the backlog, but also in anticipation of the county's growing population and the increasing volume of cases his office is expected to handle in coming years.