When Darcel Clark was a judge in the Bronx, she used to see criminal cases delayed for weeks or months as they were handed from one prosecutor to another. Every case would pass through the hands of at least three prosecutors, each of whom oversaw a different step in the legal process, from writing the initial complaint to going to trial. If a prosecutor changed jobs, another person would have to scramble to become familiar with the case, says the New York Times. Clark, now the Bronx district attorney, intends to reduce those delays by adopting a new system of handling all cases. The “vertical prosecution” system will assign every case to a single prosecutor who will be responsible from beginning to end. Clark said prosecutors would get to know their cases better and to take ownership of them. It would also foster closer relationships with victims and their families, she added.
To put the system in place, Clark will hire 45 more assistant district attorneys and two dozen new legal assistants at a cost of $3.8 million. The changes come as the Bronx struggles with the city’s largest felony backlog. There are 1,476 felony cases that are a year or older in the Bronx, compared with 775 in Manhattan. Robin Steinberg of the Bronx Defenders, which represents 28,000 people a year in criminal proceedings, saw vertical prosecutions as a positive step. Joshua Marquis of the National District Attorneys Association said that more district attorneys were moving to embrace this approach at a time of a growing emphasis on victims’ rights. In addition, many see vertical prosecutions as an efficient management tool because when a prosecutor is heavily invested in a case, it is less likely to get overlooked or lost in a pile of other cases