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270 cases opened in 2007 or earlier remain open in Jefferson County Circuit Court

More than 90 criminal cases that appeared to be pending in computer records have been closed

January 02, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — More than 90 criminal cases in Jefferson County Circuit Court that appeared to be pending in computer records have been closed after a case-by-case review uncovered recording errors, Circuit Clerk Laura E. Rattenni said last week.

The review by Rattenni's office revealed that charges contained in the "bound-over" cases were disposed of on paper, but had not been "closed out" on the computer system, Rattenni said Thursday.

Yet, even after correcting the computer records, 270 cases that were opened in 2007 or earlier remain open in Jefferson County Circuit Court, according to a revised case list Rattenni produced Thursday.

"Any further action will have to come from the prosecuting attorney's office," Rattenni said in an e-mail. "If a case is not indicted or no criminal information is filed, then an order signed by the judge is necessary to close any of these cases."

The list, which Rattenni provided to the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, includes 25 cases that were opened in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Felony charges, if not dismissed, are typically bound over from magistrate court to circuit court, where they are assigned a "B" case number. They remain pending in circuit court until the prosecutor's office presents the evidence to the grand jury for indictment. If the jury returns an indictment, the case is assigned to a circuit judge and the individual is prosecuted on the charges.

Rattenni, who took office in 2008, said past data-entry work to reflect the closure of bound-over cases might not have been done because statistics on such files are not reported to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia and were viewed as unnecessary.

"But background checks (of these cases by the public) weren't considered," Rattenni said.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Ralph Lorenzetti said recently that his office would review the old pending charges after his office has set up a new case-management system that he said will help better track the bound-over cases.

In Berkeley County, a bound-over case from 2005 is the only pending file opened before 2007 in circuit court that still remains open, according to a report generated last week by Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine. Through 2008, there were 50 open cases in Berkeley County and 301 open in Jefferson County, according to the report by Sine and the revised report by Rattenni.

Lorenzetti, who took office in 2009, has said that he believes there were specific reasons each case was left open, but also noted that state law does not give his office a time limit or statute of limitations to prosecute someone on a felony charge.

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Charges pending against woman since 2005 are dismissed

On Sunday, Dec. 26, The Herald-Mail published a story about pending cases in Berkeley and Jefferson counties that have never cleared the court system. The story focused on a Berkeley County, W.Va., woman who was charged in 2005. Her boyfriend later pleaded guilty to the charges. The woman's charges were never officially dismissed. An order was issued last week in Jefferson County to dismiss the charges.

If you missed the first story, go to www.herald-mail.com, and search for the story in the box in the upper right-hand box of our web site.

In today's story, reporter Matthew Umstead follows up on the pending cases.

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