Inherited backlog puts Williamson County DA months behind

Office of Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick (KXAN Photo/Dani Guerrero)
Office of Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick (KXAN Photo/Dani Guerrero)

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — As new Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick and his team settle into their office at the Williamson County Justice Center, they’re finding boxes of files everywhere, including 218 cases dating back to 2014.

“It’s pretty alarming. I knew it was a bunch, I didn’t figure it was going to be that many cases from that long ago,” explains Dick. “Do we have dangerous individuals, are there people we need to be actively looking for? Is it just a mistake? It’s certainly a lot of manpower we’re having to invest now.”

Dick says his team is sorting through the cases now, and he isn’t sure how far behind this will put his office. He says they’re already playing catch up with current cases and are about 3 months behind. But they are making progress. “I hope people will be patient and understand we’re trying to do the right thing on each case.”

Dick says he’s also working with police to reduce the number of cases they file with his office unnecessarily. He remembers a case from when he worked in the Williamson County DA’s office as an attorney years ago. “[The man charged] basically had just gone back into his ex-wife’s home, he didn’t steal anything, he didn’t destroy anything, but the officers charged him with stealing electricity by turning on the lights.” In 2015, there were about 3,800 cases filed with the Williamson County DA’s office.

Former Williamson County DA Jana Duty lost to Dick in the 2016 primary. Dick says he has not reached out to Duty to ask about the old cases they found, saying her office was not cooperative in the transition, and he doesn’t believe that would change now. KXAN reached out to Duty to ask about the backlog, but have not heard back.

During her time as Williamson County District Attorney, Duty tried two felony cases; one ended in a murder conviction that was reversed in December. An appeals court ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict Rex Nisbett of murdering his wife. The second case was a capital murder trial against Crispin Harmel, which ended in mistrial. That is after a judge ruled Duty withheld evidence from defense attorneys and violated a gag order. Her actions got her jailed and sanctioned by the state bar.

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