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Grand jury clerks help to erase 500-case backlog

When Kaylene Rivas, Kristen Spielbusch and Sarah Mutter transitioned to roles as grand jury clerks in early 2020, they faced an uphill battle.

They inherited a 200-case backlog, none of them had prior experience, and the COVID-19 pandemic was about to shut down Oregon.

Over the course of the pandemic, the backlog ballooned to over 500 cases, because the district attorney’s office was only processing lodged cases, individuals who were held in jail on pending charges.

“Looking at the backlog, it was scary,” Spielbusch said. “We thought we were never gonna get through that.”

But by the end of April 2021, Rivas, Spielbusch and Mutter had erased the backlog and were up to date on cases.

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said that they handled their tasks quickly and efficiently.

“I was pleasantly surprised they were able to do it as quickly as they did,” she said.

As grand jury clerks, they create the grand jury's schedule, subpoena those who need to testify in court, coordinate if and how individuals will testify remotely, and ensure that indictments are signed and are correct before sending them over to the court.

Grand juries decide whether there is enough evidence to file a charge against someone.

Their work didn’t go unnoticed. The Jackson County commissioners named Rivas, Spielbusch and Mutter Jackson County employees of the month for July.

Spielbusch started working as a grand jury clerk as COVID-19 was first ramping up, and she said she had to learn the job on the fly because the previous grand jury clerks had recently left the job.

“It was kind of terrifying,” she said. “I had never done it by myself before, and looking at the backlog that we had, it was just insane.”

Rivas, who started working for the DA’s office in September 2019, the same time as Spielbusch, previously worked as an administrative assistant in California.

She said she appreciates the dynamic nature of the job, and although the new terminology was difficult at first, her administrative background helped her quickly excel as a grand jury clerk.

“The job is always changing, and there's always something new in front of you,” she said.

Mutter was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Heckert said she was impressed with their initiative and teamwork.

“They step up and take on new tasks,” she explained. “They're really easy to work with and they work well with each other.”

Reach Mail Tribune news intern William Seekamp at wseekamp@rosebudmedia.com.