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The disposition rate of criminal cases in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court’s trial division in 2007 was down from prior years, and the division’s leaders hope to see improvement in 2008. “I’d give them an overall passing grade about what our standing inventory is,” said Judge D. Webster Keogh, administrative judge of the trial division. “I’m not entirely satisfied with the output.” In 2007, there were 13,767 new cases, according to court statistics. A total of 13,741 cases were disposed in 2007, and the division’s year-end inventory was at 8,286. In 2006, there were 15,670 new cases with 15,036 cases disposed and an ending inventory of 7,905. In 2005, there were 14,652 new cases with 14,996 cases disposed and an ending inventory of 6,594. “I think we’re doing pretty well,” said Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe, the supervising judge of the criminal section. “We’ve got judges and court officers reaching out if one case breaks down to find another one if possible.” In the last few months, the criminal section has been reviewing cases if the cases appear to be scheduled further out into the future than is ideal, according to Dembe. The cases are being reviewed to see if a plea bargain could be in the offing or to bring attorneys into court and push for a resolution of the case. “If a case sits there for a couple months, that often means a defendant is sitting there for months, if it’s a serious case,” Dembe said. The review process has been undertaken because there are always outside forces that create case inventory, such as mandatory sentences or the new criminalization of an area of behavior, Dembe said. The court system is preparing for the possibility that one outside contingency in particular � Mayor Michael Nutter’s promise to be tough on city crime � could increase the system’s docket. “I take the mayor at his word he’s going to put new police on the street and they’re going to be making nuisance arrests to tie up the real bad guys” before they commit worse crimes, Dembe said. The court system’s review of lingering cases before the expected Nutter-driven policing and arrest increase is like “cleaning your closets before you go on a shopping spree,” the judge added. During 2007, there were 8,864 new list, nonjury cases. A total of 8,390 cases were disposed, and the court concluded 2007 with a 3,358-inventory count of list cases. In 2006, there were 11,039 list cases, with a total of 10,112 cases disposed and an ending inventory of 3,464. In 2005, there were 10,350 new list cases, with a total of 10,835 cases disposed and an ending inventory of 2,879. During 2007, there were 4,649 new major, jury cases. A total of 5,061 cases were disposed, and the court finished the year with an ending inventory of 4,572. In 2006, there were 4,317 new major cases with a total of 4,565 cases disposed and an ending inventory of 4,103. In 2005, there were 3,990 new major cases with a total of 3,883 cases disposed and an ending inventory of 3,351. “I’m not entirely happy,” with the disposition level, Dembe said. She said she believes that judges are working, but the process also can be slowed by other institutional players that aren’t under the courts’ control, like the processing of paperwork by the clerk of courts. Keogh also said that some major rooms are better than others at calendaring and scheduling cases. “That’s always something we try to monitor and assist with,” Keogh said. “There’s nothing new this year opposed to others. It’s always something we try to improve on.” The current inventory of list cases may be at a historic low, especially considering that the number of major cases is often lower than the number of list cases, Keogh said. 2007′s number of new list cases and number of disposed cases is the lowest of any year in the last decade. 2007′s number of new major cases is at the fourth highest rate in the last decade, and the number of disposed cases is at the second highest in the last decade. “We have to try a lot more cases than any other jurisdiction and the percentage of jury trials relatively speaking has been going up,” Dembe said. In the homicide category, there were 254 new cases in 2007, in comparison to 314 in 2006, 312 in 2005 and 237 in 2004. There were 290 homicide cases disposed in 2007, 359 in 2006, 278 in 2005 and 328 in 2004. There was an ending inventory of 356 cases in 2007, 338 in 2006, 364 in 2005 and 333 in 2004. “Fortunately, the homicide rate fell off toward the end of the year,” Dembe said. “There’s something of a disconnect between the number of homicides and the number of arrests made. There’s a significant portion of the community that’s afraid to cooperate or is unwilling to cooperate.” Keogh and Dembe entered their administrative roles early in 2007.

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