By Dylan T. Lovan
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - The Kentucky Supreme Court has adopted a new rule to speed up state criminal courts by requiring judges to review inactive cases once a year.
The rule, shaped by an advisory panel of circuit court judges, gives criminal court judges the power to dismiss cases that have stalled for a year.
"It's intended to force lawyers to move the cases, and if they don't move, they get booted out," said Bill Cunningham, a circuit judge in western Kentucky who sat on the advisory panel headed by Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts announced the new rule Tuesday. It takes effect Jan. 1.
Cunningham said the new standard mirrors speedy trial rules that already exist for civil cases. The new criminal rule places the burden on judges - not prosecutors - to move criminal cases swiftly through the system, he said.
"That's good, because if you think the prosecutor has the responsibility and the prosecutor thinks the judge has, it just languishes there," said Cunningham. "I think that was the most significant consequence of this rule, to define the responsibility for moving cases."
Under the rule, judges will send notice to attorneys involved in a stalled case. The notice will warn that the case faces dismissal in 30 days unless attorneys can show a good reason for the delay, such as prolonged scientific testing. Under the rule, a case will be dismissed without prejudice, which gives prosecutors the opportunity to reopen it.
"I think the rule is going to end up being pretty good," said Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson.
Larson said he and other prosecutors were concerned about the rule, because initially it didn't account for fugitives from justice whose cases stalled while they were on the run. The final version includes a clause that keeps those cases on the court docket.
Most judges do a good job of keeping criminal cases moving, said Circuit Judge James Shake, chief regional judge in Jefferson County. Shake served on the state Supreme Court's advisory panel.
"I hope, and I think everyone's hope, is that this rule won't need to even be used," said Shake. "The reason being that everyone's taking closer steps to try and keep their cases on an active progression."
Shake said a series of stories on justice delays by the Courier-Journal of Louisville helped prompt the change.
The newspaper's examination began in Bullitt County, but expanded to included the entire state.
The newspaper reported that at least 200 people charged with felonies such as rape, drug dealing and murder had escaped prosecution in Bullitt County.
Some of the cases dated back to the early 1980s. The series was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize this year.
The newspaper's executive editor, Bennie L. Ivory, said the newspaper was "thrilled" with the Supreme Court's action.
"All citizens of Kentucky will benefit from this," Ivory said.
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