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Prosecuting attorney shortage leading to case backlogs, burnout in rural Michigan

Photo of the inside of a court room
Robert Linder
Photo of the inside of a court room

A mid-Michigan sheriff is speaking out about the challenges his county is facing with limited staff in the prosecuting attorney's office.

Recently, Mecosta County Sheriff Brian Miller wrote a op-ed for the Big Rapids Pioneer talking about the issue, calling it an "epidemic".

During a visit to his local prosecuting attorney, Miller noted the buildup of work and pressure, leading to burnout. In his article, Miller said, "without the good guys to hold bad guys accountable, it increases our chances of victimized by evil doers exponentially."

Some county courts only have a single prosecutor at the helm, instead of a team to split the workload.

Gladwin County Prosecutor Mark Toaz told WCMU one possible solution to the problem is to steer young lawyers towards being a county prosecutor earlier in their careers.

"If you start in a firm, you're not going to be in a courtroom for quite a while," Toaz said. "Whereas in northern Michigan because of this understaffing issue they'd be going in the courtroom just like me. They'd be handling felonies. They'd be handling misdemeanors. They'd be in handling trials. And that's a unique opportunity for a young person."

Toaz explained that while his county is smaller and does not face all of the issues that can be presented, all larger counties need is a single large case to start having challenges.

Brianna Edgar is a newsroom intern covering the Tri-Cities for WCMU.