Judges in D.C. Superior Court, falling further behind in their battle with a growing workload, saw a backlog of cases swell by nearly 25 percent last year, according to figures released yesterday.
The court's year-end report for 1984 shows that increases in the number of serious crimes brought before the court proved to be more than the judges could handle.
"No matter what you do, you keep falling behind," said acting court executive James Lynch.
Nearly 191,000 cases of all sorts were filed with the court in 1984, an increase of 6 percent over 1983. The number of cases still pending at the end of 1984 stood at almost 30,000, an increase of 24.6 percent over 12 months.
The backlog represented a backward step for the court, which in 1983 reduced the total number of cases awaiting disposition by 9 percent over the previous year.
The figures show that the court's biggest problem continues to be the backup of felony cases, many of which were not tried until more than a year after the accused had been indicted.
Felony indictments brought by the U.S. attorney's office increased by nearly 27 percent from 4,770 in 1983 to 6,035 in 1984. And officials said that more than a third of those indictments involved drug distribution charges. By comparison, in 1979, drug offenses represented 20 percent of all criminal cases.
Even with the addition of seven judges last year, Lynch said it is unclear whether the court will be able to catch up with its increasing number of criminal cases.
"I think it [the additional judges] is going to help us to stay abreast," Lynch said. "It should help us maintain our disposition level, but with the increasing caseloads, I don't know whether it can turn around completely."
Other highlights from the report include:
* Cases filed in landlord-tenant court rose 3 percent last year but the number pending resolution rose 132 percent.
* The number of small claims increased 15 percent and the backlog there swelled by 48 percent.
* Filings in the domestic relations branch dropped 15 percent, but the backlog of pending cases rose by 42 percent.
Officials pointed out that problems in some areas of the court are not as bad as indicated by the figures.
In the landlord-tenant division, for instance, the number of unresolved cases continues to remain only a fraction of the total filed, or just over 10 percent.
Officials said the greatest problem outside the criminal division appears to be in domestic relations, where Lynch said the court staff has fallen behind in processing paternity and child support complaints.
The backlog of criminal complaints comes at a time when serious crime in the District continues to decline. Police Chief Maurice Turner announced last week that reports of major crimes in 1984 dropped 7 percent, marking the third consecutive year of decline.
Prosecutors explain the apparent contradiction by noting that drug offenses are not included in the major crime statistics.
Police brought about 25,000 criminal complaints to the U.S. attorney's office for prosecution last year. The number of felonies awaiting action by Superior Court grand juries stands at about 1,300, an increase of 30 percent from a year ago.