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Judiciary struggles with overwhelming caseload

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - It's been said that justice delayed is justice denied. And while the Guam Judiciary is working hard to prevent that from happening, the third branch of the government has been left overwhelmed with an unprecedented number of criminal trials all happening simultaneously at the superior court. 

The Judiciary of Guam is struggling to handle an overwhelming caseload. "For the last couple of months, we are seeing on average five judges having trials concurrently.  It's been a big strain and I think it's probably not a shock to many people who have been called for jury trial," explained court policy, planning and community affairs director Josh Tenorio. He says the court is seeing more and more defendants asserting their right to a speedy trial, putting the pressure on the judiciary to meet the fast tracked timelines to ensure a case is tried within 45 days.

"The first thing is that the time standards are working. Judges are very conscious of it.  The Supreme Court of Guam has been publishing time standards and basic status reports on cases for every single judge," he continued. "There's pressure to get things resolved timely and more attention to that is being placed on them because of the number of pre-trial detainees at the Department of Corrections and the need for a prison."

In the last few months, the Supreme Court has thrown out a couple of cases for violating the speedy trial act faulting either the trial court or the government for failing to bring the case timely. The Judiciary currently has five asserted trials happening at the same time, leaving judges to juggle the remaining caseload. "Some judges because of asserted are having two trials at the same time - one trial in the morning, one trial in the afternoon. Some are reserving mornings for trials and looking at addressing their dockets in the afternoon," Tenorio told KUAM News.

As a result, the Judiciary has deployed some of its pro-tems. Senior pro-tem Richard Benson is currently presiding over a criminal trial while Judge Elizabeth Barrett Anderson is handling Family Court matters that need immediate attention for Judge Arthur Barcinas who currently has a trial in deliberation and another that is underway. "We're doing the best that we can. We're deploying resources where they need to be. We're trying to improve things and reduce some of the congestion going on here and hopefully we'll get through this," said Tenorio.

Jury costs are also rising exponentially leaving the court to think outside of the box to cut back on costs, but Tenorio confirms that there has been an increase in expert and juror fees as well as indigent defense with the increasing number of trials.

While the Judiciary has the authority to hire a second magistrate judge, the position has never been funded.  Tenorio efforts are underway to exhaust all measures possible before considering adding another judge to the bench and the necessary staff, saying, "I think the judges, the Judicial Council, and the Supreme Court wants to know and be assured that we're doing everything in the trial court possible to get things done fast."

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