Prosecutor: Judge shortage reaches 'crisis point' as cases mount in Stamford-Norwalk judicial district

Photo of Liz Hardaway
Paul Ferencek, state's attorney for the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District, said the district faces a backlog of cases.

Paul Ferencek, state's attorney for the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District, said the district faces a backlog of cases.

File photo

STAMFORD — The regional judicial district faces a backlog of cases amid a shortage in Superior Court judges, the area’s top prosecutor said this week.

Since March 2020, judges in the district have only heard one jury trial — a sexual assault case in July.

“We’re backed up incredibly,” Paul Ferencek, the state’s attorney for the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District, said Wednesday during a meeting of the New Canaan Police Commission. “We were backed up beforehand and it’s been even worse.”

The state’s Judicial Branch suspended jury trials when the coronavirus pandemic started. The branch began summoning jurors to courthouses again in June.

Ferencek said the judicial district has 31 pending homicide cases, one of which is five years old.

“It’s pretty unacceptable to us as prosecutors that this case has gone on that long,” he said. “But we’re backed up considerably.”

The judicial district used to have two courts, one in Norwalk and the other in Stamford. The Norwalk area court, which had six judges, has been closed since the start of the pandemic.

Norwalk cases are now being handled in the Stamford court on Hoyt Street by four full-time judges and one part-time judge.

Most of these cases do not go to trial as they are resolved through plea negotiations and diversion programs. Aside from jury trials, judges still have pretrial hearings and other responsibilities, usually leaving just one judge for jury trials, Ferencek said.

“That basically renders it impossible for us to do a sufficient number of jury trials to make any headway in this backlog,” Ferencek said.

Before the Norwalk area court closed, up to three jury trials between both courts took place at a time.

“Now we have less judges, so we’re lucky if we can do one,” Ferencek said. “We are really at a crisis point.”

liz.hardaway@hearst.com