ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Criminal case files are piling up inside Albemarle County’s Circuit Court clerk’s office. The county’s top prosecutor says his office saw a 30 percent increase in criminal filings from 2017 to 2018.

Jon Zug, Albemarle’s Clerk of Circuit Court, said the increase is a big spike. The court added more than 300 criminal filings in the past year alone. 

Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci says the spike in misdemeanor and felony cases is due to three factors: more police officers hired, a 2015 law change over misdemeanors, and overall philosophy. Tracci also says he’s been able to do all this while saving more than $200,000 in his budget.

“Most of these offenses are charged by the police department and the commonwealth’s attorney doesn’t have the ability to ignore felonies,” Tracci said.

Zug is asking for an additional clerk position to help keep up with the pace.

"There is not a day that goes by that we don't have criminal cases and so the ability for them to catch up on the court matters that they have to do has been significantly compromised," Zug said.

Liz Murtagh is feeling the effects of the spike inside the public defender's office. She says the increase reflects additional charges added within case - not a new crime.

"What's happening now is multiple charges are being brought up to Circuit Court and that artificially elevates the numbers that are in Circuit Court<" murtagh said.< p>

Murtagh says this creates problems for her clients. She said it is more risky to test evidence or go to trial if there are more charges against them.

In the last year, Tracci has hired three additional Assistant Commonwealth's Attorneys to the office.

Press Release from Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney:

The Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office recently welcomed additional Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys to the Office.  

James Randall “Randy” Herring joined the Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in December, 2018.  Mr. Herring served in the Albemarle County Police Department from 2011-2015 before completing his legal education at Liberty University School of Law.  Prior to joining the Office, Mr. Herring prosecuted cases in the Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.  Jeremy Boggs joined the Office of Commonwealth’s Attorney last year after serving in private practice and as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Nelson County.  Juan Luis Vega has served as an Assistant Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney since last year.  Prior to joining the office, Mr. Vega prosecuted juvenile crimes and felonies in Greene County and a range of crimes in Chesterfield County.  A native Spanish speaker, Mr. Vega continues to practice military law as a judge advocate in the U.S. Army JAG Corps. 

Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci stated: “The Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and our community are well-served by these attorneys, and I am pleased to welcome them.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci also announced misdemeanor and felony volume trends from 2015-2018.  According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracci, increases partly reflect a 2015 statutory change requiring the certification of ancillary misdemeanor offenses in circuit court.  (Virginia Code Section 19.2-10.1). They also reflect the Albemarle County Police Department’s (ACPD) successful recruitment efforts, which have resulted in nearly full staffing of authorized positions at ACPD.  Finally, an increase in felony volume reflects efforts to enhance accountability for felony offenses, including felony eluding cases, assaults and batteries against law enforcement, enhanced prosecution of sex crimes and crimes against children, violent offenses, felony property crimes, and other crimes. 

These numbers do not include cases indicted by the Multijurisdiction Grand Jury empaneled in 2017, which resulted in 16 indictments against gang members of MS-13, commercial sex trafficking indictments, second degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony indictments, and 16 indictments relating to an Albemarle pain management physician.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci further stated that the Office produced net budget savings over the same time period.  Based on data provided by the County of Albemarle, the difference between funds budgeted by the County and expended by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office equaled $95,000 in Fiscal Year 2016.  After experiencing a $15,000 cut in 2017, the difference between budgeted and expended funds in 2017 totaled over $61,000.  Finally, in 2018 the Office did not expend $59,195 of budgeted funds.  As a result, over $200,000 in authorized funds were not expended by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office during this period.  

Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci stated:

“While the Commonwealth’s Attorney is constitutionally distinct from the County Board, the support of Albemarle taxpayers is essential to the success of the Office. I am grateful for the support of Albemarle taxpayers and will continue to be a steward of their hard-earned resources in the Office I am privileged to serve.”