Yakima County prosecutors managing heavy caseload

Yakima County prosecutors managing heavy caseload »Play Video

YAKIMA, Wash. -- KIMA learned Yakima County prosecutors have more on their plate than those from other counties in Washington state. This as local prosecutors have been admonished recently for failing to meet deadlines on key cases.

A prosecutor in Yakima County has more than three times the average caseload of a prosecutor in King County. It's caused some people to worry about fair trials. Yakima County's lead prosecutor says that, despite all the felonies, their caseload is still manageable.

Vern Holbrook's family has been paying close attention to the case against the people accused of his murder.

"Our family definitely wants justice in the killing of our loved one," Holbrook's son Andrew Rockenfield said.

With the same judge and the same defense attorney as the Kevin Harper case, Holbrook's family is worried the case could be botched.

"We hope authorities won't allow the judge and defense attorney in this case from repeating recent history," Rockenfield said.

You may remember, after a series of missteps, prosecutors had to drop murder charges against Harper. He'd been held in the West Valley triple murder from a few years ago. Yakima's prosecuting attorney says there's no way something similar will happen again.

"For those that are worried about that we're not on top of it or referenced any prior cases, we're on top of that case," Hagarty said. "It's being handled, it's being done, and we're moving it along."

The prosecutor's office was recently warned by the judge they need to keep the case on track. Jim Hagarty says that prosecutor doesn't have as large of a caseload, so he can keep the Holbrook murder a top priority.

"I've covered some of his cases, other people have covered cases because he's focused on that case," Hagarty said.

KIMA looked into average caseloads. In King County, prosecutors handle about 41 felonies yearly. In Benton County, they average 100 more. Yakima County tops the list with 155 cases for each of its 12 deputy prosecutors. And, there are 850 felonies currently pending.

"You always hope that the numbers will go down," Hagarty said. "You know, we'll have less referrals but it doesn't seem to be the case, doesn't seem to be the case."

Leaving the office to look to the future when a budget improvement could allow additional prosecutors to ease the load for all.

In the last five years, the Yakima County Prosecutor's office has lost six prosecutors. They're hoping to have the budget to fill more open positions next year.