A significant criminal record processing backlog has developed in the Luzerne County's clerk of courts office, officials say.
Timely filing and posting of records is essential because judges rely on the information to issue rulings and schedule proceedings, said county acting Court Administrator Michael Shucosky.
"It's crucial to have up-to-date records," Shucosky said, noting the backlog also applies to juvenile dependency and delinquency records.
The ramifications of office backlogs came to light in May, when a Wilkes-Barre man was wrongly lodged in prison because the clerk of courts office didn't file paperwork showing a judge lifted an outstanding warrant against him.
The man lost his six-year construction job because he missed work and his boss was displeased with the prison explanation. The office blamed the problem on the filing backlog.
In an Aug. 22 memo to county Manager Robert Lawton, the backlog was described as "critical," with new cases backed up about a month and juvenile cases several months behind.
The memo was written by Interim Clerk of Courts Tom Pizano and Art Bobbouine, a deputy in the civil records prothonotary's office. The civil and criminal records offices are supposed to merge for efficiency under the new home rule government.
In response, Lawton assigned Bobbouine on Aug. 24 to help implement a corrective plan and handle day-to-day operations in clerk of courts.
Assistance is required, Lawton said, because Pizano has been tied up overseeing the election bureau since Leonard Piazza was terminated as election director in April. Pizano will continue handling election matters until a new election director is hired in October and brought up to speed, Lawton said.
The corrective plan prepared by Bobbouine and Pizano says at least one prothonotary staffer will be assigned to attend required criminal court proceedings, which will free up a clerk of courts employee to enter records into the system.
Prothonotary staffers also will be trained to file clerk of court records during "slow periods."
Bobbouine also sent a memo to prothonotary employees on Aug. 27 offering overtime if they want to assist with clerk of court filing. Workers are authorized to put in up to 6.5 additional hours per week before or after their regular shifts or on Saturdays, he wrote.
Bobbouine said Thursday that officials are "looking at all options."
"Within a week or two, there should be a concrete plan. It's going to take some time, but I'm confident we can get it done," he said.
Current warrants have been posted, preventing incorrect prison lodgings for that reason, he stressed.
The backlog started developing the end of 2011 when budget cuts and staff reductions "started having an impact," Shucosky said.
Court officials have stressed the seriousness of the matter to county officials, he said.
"I know they're aware of it and trying to resolve it. They'll have to determine how to address it," he said.