New Central Texas DA disposes of thousands of cases to clear backlog
McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson has dismissed hundreds of cases that date back more than a decade ago as he works to clear a misdemeanor backlog.
"We've got some oxygen back in the courthouse where the judges both in the district courts and the county courts at law have been really good at helping us move cases," Johnson said Wednesday.
"When I took office we had about 9,000 misdemeanor cases,” he said.
“Now I’ve just been told by my staff yesterday that we are back down to where we need to be, about 4,600 cases that in the court system," he said.
"I'd like to see misdemeanors ultimately move through the system in a six-month period of time that's kind of what we're looking at instead of a year and a half or more," he said.
In the process, Johnson says he hopes to reduce the county jail population from more than 1,000 to 600, which he says will save taxpayers money.
State District Judge Matt Johnson says he believes Johnson is doing the right thing.
"I think he is tough on the cases that he needs to be tough on and then exercise discretion appropriately in places where discretion needs to be used,” he said.
Johnson says most all of the dismissed cases involved lighter crimes and on hundreds of others, he has worked with defense attorneys to hammer out plea deals.
"Other cases that should've been settled years ago or even months ago we're getting in there and working with our defense lawyers and getting those cases pleaded,” he said.
"Certainly aggravated assaults, murders and sexual assaults and those really bad cases I'm still working those as aggressively as hard as I can," he said.
Local police chiefs declined to comment publicly on Johnson’s efforts, but some said privately they’re a little concerned about some of the dismissed cases.
Johnson says he works well with local law enforcement agencies as they discuss reasons why some of the cases were dropped.
"I haven't heard anything from disgruntled law officers,” Judge Johnson said.
"I haven't seen an unusually large number of cases being dismissed."
The district attorney says the dismissals and pleas allow his office to work more on new cases that continue to appear in his office weekly.
"I haven't had any complaints about being soft on crime and if there are complaints in that regard, we certainly aren't."