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More than 2,100 criminal defendants were arraigned the first six months of this year in a special felony court focused on clearing the docket and achieving what advocates call "same justice sooner."

Among those who made an appearance in Early Case Resolution court was Thomas Halloran, who was arrested in May while out on parole and came to the court because he could be facing a felony.

Prosecutors instead filed misdemeanor charges and sent him to a different courtroom to complete the justice process.

Judge Ken Gnoss, who's presided over the nearly three-year-old court since January, said the pace isn't compromising justice.

He said the most experienced lawyers are assigned to the court by the district attorney and public defender. And Gnoss a former prosecutor and police officer - signs off on every agreement.

"I'm not going to buy into a deal unless I think it's the right thing to do," Gnoss said. "I have to make sure people are accountable."

However, despite its popularity among judges and attorneys, the quick-turnaround venue has its critics.

Some defense lawyers said they feel pressured to plea before having all evidence before them. And at least one law enforcement source said the emphasis on clearance rates hurts public safety.

"We're not filing what we should in ECR," said the source, who requested anonymity because of dealings with other attorneys and judges in the court.

In the wake of the Halloran shooting, prosecutors discussed case handling in a regular staff meeting.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch wouldn't go into specifics about the meeting, but said she talked to her lawyers about "how we can best seek justice."

"It's something I've been telling my prosecutors from the beginning," Ravitch said. "Get all the information you can. Make a decision in the interest of justice."

The special-purpose court opened in 2009 following a study into ways to avoid doubling the size of the county jail by finding alternatives to incarceration.

David Bennett, the county's Utah-based criminal justice consultant, said early discussions between defense attorneys and prosecutors could get non-violent offenders out of custody quicker and free up trial courts for more complex cases.

He called the money-saving idea "same justice sooner." Since its debut, supporters said the court has made good on its promise. It has processed about 4,000 cases a year, resolving more than 90 percent within weeks instead of months, court officials said.

Unlike the previous arrangement, the single court handles all felonies, often from first appearances through sentencing.

Long calendars of in-custody defendants, some shackled or restrained in wheelchairs, are brought in each day, charged and asked to consider pleas. If an agreement can't be reached, the case is sent to trial.

In 2010, the court saw 4,030 defendants. Of those, 2,789 were arraigned on felony charges and 1,241 ended up with misdemeanors.

In the first quarter of the year, 72 percent of all felony cases reached disposition within 30 days compared to 30 percent for non-ECR courts, according to the most recent statistics available.

Judge Elliot Daum, an early supporter and the first to preside over the court in 2009, said it's been a worthy endeavor. Cases get "intense scrutiny" by experienced lawyers, who make quick appraisals and consider offers, he said.

"It seems to be doing what it set out to do," Daum said.

Judge Rene Chouteau, who took over in 2010, agreed. He said he was skeptical at first but was sold by its efficiency and cost savings to other county departments.

"Quick resolution doesn't mean slapdash," Chouteau said.