Fewer Civil Lawsuits and Criminal Cases in Rhode Island

The Providence Journal is reporting that there was a drop in the number of civil and criminal cases in Rhode Island based on the Judiciary’s annual report.  However, appeals to the Supreme Court were at a 5-year high and there were increases in cases involving domestic-abuse, mental-health and child-support issues.

Because of budget cuts, 40 court positions were left vacant during 2009 and have not been filled this year either. But the lack of staffing does not appear to have much to do with the number of cases adjudicated in the state court system –– which includes the Supreme, Superior, District, Family and Workers’ Compensation courts and the Traffic Tribunal.

Craig Berke, spokesman for the state judiciary, said Friday that the decrease in most court filings was part of the “normal up-and-down fluctuation that occurs year to year.”

“We take cases as they come,” he said. “This does not appear to be a steady decline.”

In fact, Berke said, more recent court statistics show that there was an increase in felony and misdemeanor charges the state brought in the first three months of this year over the same period last year. And, says Henry S. Kinch Jr., chief clerk of the Providence Superior Court, during the first three months of 2010, there were more civil jury verdicts in Providence County than there were for all of 2009.

According to the judiciary’s annual report, the increase in appeals filed in the Supreme Court was offset by a 20-percent increase in cases mediated –– obviating the need for oral arguments –– so there was not a significant increase in written decisions.

…The uptick in new domestic-abuse and child-support cases filed last year in Rhode Island may be partially attributed to stress associated with the state’s high unemployment rate, which experts say can lead to depression and an increase in the use of alcohol.

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