Thursday, May 31, 2012

"We've been understaffed for a long time..."

Misdemeanor prosecutions may fall prey to budget ax; DA warns law enforcement funding may prevent filing of most non-felony cases - Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard

”We want to prosecute everything, but what I've let the chiefs know is that if we are not staffed adequately, we may have to reduce our cases,” Gallegos said. “We've been understaffed for a long time, and we've worked 100 ways to make it happen, but what's progressively happened is we've just gotten to the point where there is no more to cut.”

While Gallegos' proposal to drastically cut down on misdemeanor prosecutions if his budget isn't increased has been met with concern in law enforcement circles, he said he simply doesn't see any way around it, explaining that his office's expenses have been growing -- through personnel and supplies costs -- while its funding has shrunk.

The proposed 2012-2013 county budget holds the line of funding for the DA's Office from last year, but Gallegos said his office has seen some of its grants reduced, adding that grant money accounts for 62 percent of his budget.

If things don't change, Gallegos said, his office will be left with 11 attorneys -- including himself and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Neel, who handles charging of all the office's cases and, consequently, rarely sees a courtroom.

Gallegos said he has three attorneys that are tied to grants or funding sources -- one for environmental and consumer protection, one for worker's compensation and auto insurance fraud, and another to handle drug task force cases -- and the remaining six deputy district attorneys man the county's six courtrooms, which must be staffed with a prosecutor five days a week. And, Gallegos said, with attorneys spending hours in preparation for every hour in court, his staff is wearing thin.

”I'm breaking people,” Gallegos said. “We are at a critical staffing level, and we've gotten there not just in one year, but over years and years. A little reduction is now a big reduction because you get to that tipping point, that threshold.”

...Gallegos said he's not asking police not to arrest offenders -- he's just saying he won't prosecute them, meaning law enforcement can still pick people up and book them into the jail, but they'll be released by law after 48 hours without charges being filed against them. That's just what the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office will do if misdemeanor prosecutions do see a large drop off, said Lt. Steve Knight.
”We will still continue to do our job and will continue to submit cases and, obviously, the district attorney has to make his own charging decision,” Knight said. “We would still respond to calls and treat everything the same as we do now.”

MAYBE - MAYBE, Paul, "losing', firing, and driving off our county's top, seasoned prosecutors WASN'T SUCH A GOOD IDEA AFTER ALL. Only 11 DDAs left? Wow. You should be swimming in unallocated personnel dollars. Why have those vacant positions not been filled?

Funding is an excuse. Get real. Ask Law Enforcement. This has been going on already, for a long time. Now the budget provides cover.

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