Levi Morris took over as Barton County attorney a mere seven days ago, but he’s already making some changes. The first step was streamlining how his office handles how criminal and juvenile offender cases are handled.
“Basically it’s a semantics change,” Morris said. He explained how the system works.
In each criminal case, a document is filed. By state statute, this can be called a complaint, an information or an indictment.
There is little difference among the three. But, a complaint must be signed off on by “someone with knowledge of the facts,” an information can be signed by the county attorney or a representative, and an indictment must be signed by the chief juror of a grand jury (this is more of a factor in a federal case).
Presently, Morris said, they are referred to as complaints in Barton County. And, this came to mean a law enforcement officer is the one who has to sign the document.
“We called a cop,” he said. The officer came in and swore to the facts in the complaint.
“This is really a waste of time,” he said. The paperwork they sign really doesn’t impact the case.
By the numbers
In the past year, Morris said his office filed 586 criminal cases and 94 juvenile cases. Under the current method, a law enforcement officer had to be called to County Attorney’s Office to sign the paperwork.
“We have to drag them away from their duties,” Morris said.
Then, he put numbers to this added work. If someone in his office spends just five minute on each of what he called unnecessary visits, that amounts to seven days per year.
In addition, each case means bringing in officers from the Barton County Sheriff’s Office or police departments in Claflin, Ellinwood, Great Bend or Hoisington. If these trips average 30 minutes each, that totals 28.25 days per year.
What is changing
The current procedure is not mandated by law, but is instead governed by tradition, Morris said. “It’s just the way its always been done.”
So, cases filed in the Barton County Attorney’s Office will be treated as “informations,” he said. This way, he or any of the attorneys in his office can provide the needed signature.
Granted, he said, more people are familiar with the term “complaint.” So, when dealing with the public, the terms may be used interchangeably.
Other counties, such as Reno and Saline, already do it this way, Morris said. Some refer to them as “complaint/information.”
The change is only in how cases are handled, he said. “We are not changing how we make our charging decisions.”
Morris said he had initially planned on putting off making any alterations, but had second thoughts. “I didn’t want to come in at budget time with a whole laundry list of things. I will just annoy you on an incremental basis.”
This way, he can request budget amendments based on what has already been done to improve efficiency. “We need to work smarter, not harder.”
Morris said he realized there are two parts to his job. First, he is an attorney with a case load, but he is also a department head that has to run and manage the office.
He said he plans on working hard to balance these.