Superior Court Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2009
Fiscal Year 2009 brought Superior Court budget cuts, frozen positions, and reduced salaries. At the same time there were increases in the filings of Mortgage Foreclosures, Judgments and Debt actions on the civil side and the disturbing increase in Murder 1 cases on the criminal side.
The work of the Court clearly reflects current economic and social troubles. We have sought new ways to help deal with the current work crisis, even as it takes its toll on our current work force. We must, now, do much more with much less. We serve the community in which we live, and we still strive for excellence in service to all our citizens.
This year's statewide civil case load witnessed a 39% rise in Mortgage Foreclosures and Liens, and continues to rise. The number of Judgments filed went up 9% in NCC, and the number of Judgments executed went up by 12%. Statewide, the aggregate number of new civil cases filed was up seven per cent.
In 2008, by Administrative Directive No. 2008-3, the Mortgage Foreclosure Dormant Docket was created. The Docket encourages parties to a mortgage foreclosure action to mutually agree to a resolution of the matter short of foreclosure. To do so, the plaintiff may request that a mortgage foreclosure action be removed from the active docket to the Dormant Docket where it may remain up to 24 months. This gives the parties a substantial period of time for negotiations to prevent foreclosure.
The Court is also working, with representative of both lenders and homeowners, to develop the Mortgage Mediation Program. This program is designed to give homeowners an opportunity to negotiate an alternative to foreclosure, with the assistance of housing counselors, without affecting substantial rights of lenders.
Additionally, we are proud to announce that Project Rightful Owner, which was launched May 10, 2007, has disbursed almost $3.5 million of the nearly $5 million in Sheriff's Sales excess proceeds.
On the criminal side this year, statewide, there were 8,898 cases filed, down 12% from last year; 9,446 cases disposed, down 8%; and 1,603 cases pending down 25%. Unfortunately, this good news fades as we look at the 51 murder cases, up 11% from last year, pending as of June 30, 2009. Seventy-seven per cent of these 51 murder cases are pending in New Castle County. Furthermore, 6,255 Violation of Probation cases were filed statewide and 5,205 such cases were disposed.
The Violation of Probation (VOP) cases and the resulting recidivism rates are a problem for Superior Court. Much of our time and resources are spent on the hearings and attached paperwork. The long-standing VOP process does not account for those probationers who keep on violating because of mental health issues. In an effort to help these probationers, Judge Jan Jurden conceived and implemented a felony VOP Mental Health Court.
Implemented in April of 2008, this collaborative Mental Health Court Project is designed to identify persons involved in the criminal justice system as a result of serious mental health issues. It provides them with intensive services and support to guide them to recovery and self sufficiency as an alternative to repeated incarceration for violations of probation or commission of new offenses. The Court strives to provide necessary wrap-around services to reduce the number of days in prison and psychiatric hospitals for individuals with mental health issues, thereby reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and achieving cost savings.
Our website has more information than ever. The expungement forms and procedures are now on our website. Meetings to develop a trade, business and fictitious names searchable database began in November, 2008; the development, design and testing continued through 2008. On May 11, we launched iCourtClerk™. This initiative assists our users with a Web-based Answer Desk, and is provided for those who choose internet communications as their primary communication tool and have not been able to find needed information through the other on-line searches.
Even during such times as these, Superior Court looks toward the future, and we know one thing is certain-the strength of our core values: Unity, Neutrality, Integrity, Timeliness, Equality and Dedication. We strive to assist those who face losing their homes, to offer them more time for negotiations. For those who have already lost their homes, we strive to help them get back some of the profits from the sale of that property. We strive, through our website, to make it easier for people to get an expungement, or to see if anyone else has the name they have picked for their business.
By assisting those who are unable, or just need help, we strengthen our bond with our community. All that Superior Court has been able to accomplish this year is due, primarily, to the integrity and dedication of its people. No matter what hardships may come, we will stand proud and we will be UNITED in our mission to serve the public, in pursuit of justice.
— President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. —