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Courts Are Working Through Backlogs In Criminal Cases Postponed Due To The Pandemic

A Court of Common Pleas sign on a stone wall.
Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: Attorney David Shrager explains why some case proceedings were postponed during the pandemic, and how courts are now getting around to the backlog. COVID-19 cases are going up in the county, with unvaccinated people at risk; Dr. Maya Ragavan with the Pittsburgh Community Vaccine Collaborative explains efforts to understand why people are vaccine-hesitant. And an investigation into McKeesport apartments where residents say conditions are unlivable.

Pandemic caused court backlogs across the country and Allegheny County
(0:00 - 7:04)

In the wake of the pandemic, many criminal courts, including the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, are returning to in-person trials and are facing a buildup of cases from the last year. David Shrager, a criminal defense attorney and managing partner of the Shrager Defense Attorneys in the Pittsburgh area, says that while some cases in Allegheny County did go forward in the past year, others have been accumulating.

“The courts did the best that they could to preserve people's civil liberties while at the same time keeping lawyers, judges, support staff and prisoners safe. The courthouse and the jails were hot spots,” says Shrager.

The decision not to delay certain cases, he says, was often based on the severity of the issue or the wishes of the defendant. Shrager says, as an attorney, there are critical aspects to in-person trials.

“We've all heard that old adage that 90% of communication is nonverbal. If it was a situation where I had to ascertain someone's credibility, where I had to make really important judgments about really important matters, I would really prefer to be in person,” he says.

For those who decided to wait, Shrager says, their court dates are tentatively scheduled.

He says this is a good sign.

“Is there a little bit of a backlog? Absolutely, but everyone is doing everything that they can to chip away at that, and we will get through the backlog.”

Challenges persist in convincing people to get vaccinated
(7:10 - 15:00)

Allegheny County saw 90 new COVID-19 cases one day late last week, a significant increase from a month ago when the county was seeing 10 to 20 daily cases.

With the rise of transmission in the delta variant of COVID-19, public health officials across the country are warning this next wave could be made up of those who are unvaccinated.

Dr. Maya Ragavan is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and is co-leader of the Pittsburgh Community Vaccine Collaborative, which works with organizations to promote vaccination in hard-to-reach communities.

"We're very much focused on a multi-level, multi-factor strategy to support people getting vaccinated," she says. "That's having community-based clinics, school-based clinics and also having the vaccine available at your doctor's office or another place that you really trust. Throughout this whole process, we've been very much focused on vaccine trustworthiness."

Ragavan says despite widespread availability, issues of accessibility persist.

"All of the systems and structures are built for people who speak English, so we need to be really thoughtful and intentional about how we are providing vaccines for our non-English speaking community members," she says.

The Pittsburgh Community Vaccine Collaborative has set up clinics with Spanish interpreters to alleviate the challenges associated with language barriers.

Ragavan says along with providing easy access, she aims to listen to patients' concerns about the vaccine, and address them head on.

“I want them to feel good about their decision, I don’t want them to feel coerced,” says Ragavan. “They’re happy that they’re getting vaccinated, they’re happy they’re getting their child vaccinated, that’s the ideal scenario.”

Apartment tenants in McKeesport say living conditions have dropped since PNC Bank bought the buildings
(15:05 - 22:30)

After a powerful new owner bought two affordable housing complexes in McKeesport, health code violations and 911 calls surged. Now, the residents are organizing to demand better.

In a joint reporting project with PublicSource, 90.5 WESA’s Kate Giammarise takes us there.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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