Welcome 2021! There really is something refreshing about starting a new year. Maybe it’s the excitement of the next chapter. Or maybe it’s the chance to leave past difficulties behind. This year, many of us are happy to bid a not-so-fond farewell to 2020. It’s certainly been challenging on many levels, but there have been some pretty great things, too.
As I quietly welcomed in 2021 with family (did not see the ball drop if you’re wondering), I couldn’t help but notice the media’s negative focus on the past year. For sure, 2020 deserves a bad rap, but as I reflect on the work of the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, I am inspired by all that we accomplished in 2020, despite 2020.
Here are some highlights: In our criminal division, we held grand jury a total of 44 times (out of 52 possible). More than 600 indictments were filed by the grand jury and prosecuted by our office. In a non-COVID year, we trend toward 750, so we ended up right on track. Additionally, 44 bills of information (additional felonies) were filed without the grand jury, and prosecuted by our office. Of those cases initiated, nearly half involved possession of drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.
The courtroom was a busy place, despite COVID. Sure, many hearings were held virtually, but we were still able to hold in-person trials, thanks to the safety and sanitation efforts of the county to safeguard the courthouse and the well-being of those inside it, against COVID. In fact, we had 22 jury trials in 2020. That’s compared to an average of 24 or 25 in a non-COVID world. We also conducted five court trials, which is about the normal average. Of those trials, more than 20% were domestic violence related, and nearly 50% involved sexual assaults. Suffice it to say, crime didn’t take a back seat during the pandemic, and neither did we.
On the other side of the house, our civil division was busy, busy, busy, helping local townships adapt to COVID-19 restrictions and comply with open meetings law. Our civil division also aided our law enforcement partners in navigating COVID-19 restrictions, and it continues to advise the Delaware Public Health District. New this year, our civil team conducted its first-ever virtual certified public records training, with the help of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. More than 200 people from across the state participated. Lastly, but certainly not least, our office helped the Delaware County Board of Elections navigate the largest county election to date, in November. To be fair, our clients do most of the heavy lifting for sure, but it’s an honor to work with them and help them with whatever comes their way.
If I stopped here, I’d miss the opportunity to tell you about other wonderful work we do that hasn’t changed during the pandemic, but these are a little bit harder to quantify or explain. I’ll try my best.
We continued to help our kiddos who may be abused or neglected. We focused on the rehabilitation of our kids when they found themselves in trouble. We answered the phone, every day, to help those who were being abused or threatened. We helped victims file civil protection orders and connected them with services throughout the county. We cried countless tears with our victims, and we gave out endless fist bumps and even a few hugs (yes, even during COVID, there is no replacement for a much-needed hug). We had disappointments for sure, frustrations galore, and the same worries you had last year, but as you can tell, we have much to celebrate about 2020. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that today isn’t promised, and that hope and happiness are choices.
So yes, I am so excited for the new year, but not because 2020 was “bad,” but because I love my community, and 2020 has shown me just what we’re made of.
Shortly before Christmas, I swore my oath to uphold the Constitution as your Delaware County prosecutor. I shared this special moment with my daughter and husband by my side. It was truly an honor to renew my commitment for a new term in office, to pledge my intent to continue serving this wonderful county we call home. Thank you for letting me serve as your Delaware County prosecutor. I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings. I hope to see you all in the new year. Until then, stay strong (I know you are after 2020), stay safe, and stay positive as we usher in the next phase. Welcome, 2021! We’re ready for ya!
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.