ATLANTA — The Fulton County District Attorney is getting what she calls much-needed funding that will allow her office to keep suspects accused of violent crimes behind bars.
District Attorney Fani Willis is working through a backlog of 11,000 cases.
Willis on Tuesday told Fulton County commissioners she inherited thousands of unindicted cases from predecessor Paul Howard, even more cases from when courtrooms in Fulton were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now more cases due to an "undeniable rise in crime."
Willis called the situation a "crisis" and described another potential crisis ahead unless defendants in many of the cases are indicted by a deadline of Sept. 28. If certain defendants aren't indicted by that date, they will be eligible to receive a bond and leave the Fulton County Jail, according to Willis.
A clock starts when someone is arrested for a felony crime. Georgia law requires the district attorney to indict defendants within 90 days, or they will be allowed to leave jail on a bond if they were previously denied one.
Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, the 90-day clock was paused due to courtrooms being closed, which contributed to the backlog of cases.
The clock though is no longer paused and Sept. 28 is less than two weeks away.
On Tuesday Willis told county commissioners she needs to hire more staff to efficiently handle the mountain of cases her office is dealing with. She needs millions in funding to hire more staff.
"It is simple facts. It is math. It is not enough staff and we need to make sure we get enough staff," she said.
Fulton's top prosecutor received no opposition from commissioners who approved $5 million in annual funding.
The funds will allow Willis to hire new staff and then retain them into the future. Willis said she will hire 55 more employees, a mix of attorneys, investigators, and assistants.
Willis previously told 11Alive she had already interviewed or talked with many potential hires who could quickly start working if she received funding.
She began requesting the funding back in May and told reporters outside of Tuesday's board of commissioners meeting there will be consequences due to the time it took to receive the requested funds.
Priority cases, such as murder and rape cases, will be handled according to Willis, along with many cases involving other violent offenses, by the Sept. 28 deadline.
Currently in the backlog of cases are 224 murder cases where defendants haven't been indicted. The 90-day clock will end on the 28th for 51 of those cases.
"I'll be able to get to every homicide by that time because we've been working around the clock to make sure that is done," Willis said. "We will get to our sexual predators, but not because this wasn't done back in May. These things have consequences. So, No. We aren't going to get to every single case and I'm not going to tell the public that we are."
Willis added she has been working around the clock, 40 hours per week plus nights and weekends, because of the volume of cases. She said much of her staff has also been working the same schedule.
Come Sept. 28, the backlog of cases issue won't be resolved. However, on that date, the 90-day clock ends for only some of the defendants in the 11,000 case backlog. The next day more defendants hit the 90-day mark and so on.
Willis said she is confident the funding she received Tuesday will allow her staff to be in a much better position and eventually get ahead of cases.
"With the right minds it can be done well, we can get out of this hole, but we have to have the resources to do it," she said.