Underfunded District Attorney offices are facing further cuts

Anniston Star

by Rebecca Walker
Star Staff Writer

Read here or below.

The state’s criminal justice system is facing a financial blow as the state budget passed in April by the Legislature cuts $5 million in funding for district attorneys across Alabama for fiscal 2011.

The cuts include a $154,286 hit for the Seventh Circuit district attorney’s office, which serves Calhoun and Cleburne counties.

The state currently funds 35 to 40 percent of district attorneys’ operating budgets, according to Randall Hillburn, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the Office of Prosecution Services. District attorneys serve as criminal prosecutors on behalf of the state and victims.

“We are literally dying on the vine. I don’t know what they expect us to do, because we certainly cannot fill our constitutional obligations on the amount of money they’re giving us to live on,” he said.

The only option left for many district attorneys in Alabama is to lay off staff, Hillburn said. Such layoffs would compound an already-strained system. If all of the current criminal cases were divided evenly among district attorneys and their assistants, each lawyer would have about 2,200 cases, he estimated.

The 7th Circuit’s district attorney, Joe Hubbard, said the number of cases currently being handled by his office is in the thousands. He hopes the office will be able to escape layoffs this year. After three staff members left in the last fiscal year, Hubbard did not rehire people to fill those positions.

“We were somewhat forward-thinking, I think,” he said. “I don’t think ours will be quite as bad because of the fact we had some (employees) leave.”

Nearly 100 percent of state funding for district attorneys goes to pay salaries, Hillburn said. With less than half of their budgets funded by the state, prosecutors’ offices establish special programs to bring in more funds, such as the 7th Circuit’s Worthless Check Unit and Restitution Recovery Program. Hubbard said those programs have sustained his office in past economic downturns. The 7th Circuit employs eight lawyers.

“I can’t make promises that we won’t have layoffs (this year), but hopefully we won’t,” Hubbard said.

Hillburn said district attorneys were already doing all they can to fully fund their operations.

“It takes the DAs in this state about $96 to $100 million a year to operate. It’s costing us that much to run our show,” he said. “We have to do everything short of selling Krispy Kremes on the courthouse steps just to keep the doors open.”

A bill passed by the Alabama Legislature earlier this year will provide a small bit of relief from the budget cuts, but will not make up near the total, Hillburn said. Known as the Solicitor’s Fee bill, it requires those processed through the criminal court system to match court fees paid to the Fair Trial Tax Fund with an additional fee that will help fund the district attorney’s office.

That kind of fee existed in the 7th Circuit prior to the passage of the law, however.

The effects of funding cuts could become apparent to the public when and if the criminal trial process slows down, Hillburn said. Fewer people working in district attorneys’ offices cannot sustain the same number of cases currently in the system, he said.

“It could mean it takes another two to three years before serious crimes like murder make it to trial,” he said.

Judicial circuits serving Randolph and Talladega counties will see cuts of more than $100,000 next year, as well. The 5th Circuit, which serves Randolph, Chambers, Tallapoosa and Macon counties, is budgeted to lose $142,606, while the 40th Circuit in Clay and Coosa counties is losing $54,151.

Attempts to contact district attorneys in those judicial circuits were unsuccessful.

***end article***


AWRN comment: It is shameful when the state calls it a "program" to institute additional fines on individuals to sustain a broken system. Shameful and ridiculous.

3 Responses

  1. […] there’s a risk that huge backlogs in court cases will start to develop over the coming years. Alabama recently cut $5m from the money it allocates to DAs’ offices statewide. In the Bronx, New York’s fabled […]

  2. […] there’s a risk that huge backlogs in court cases will start to develop over the coming years. Alabama recently cut $5m from the money it allocates to DAs’ offices statewide. In the Bronx, New York’s fabled […]

  3. The DA’s office is overloaded and overfunded. If they want to make cut backs, I suggest they quit trying to prosecute stupid cases.

    Quit trying to prosecute the guy who read his wife’s email and now faces 5 years in prison.

    Quit trying to prosecute the granny who failed to water her lawn at the prescribed time.

    In retrospect, quit trying to prosecute the other granny who DID water her lawn, but not at the right time of day (5am).

    In fact, quit trying to prosecute old granny, period.

    The problem with running this police state and having litereally 25% of the entire world’s prison population is that eventually, we are going to run out of tax payers to support them all.

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