District attorney Parks White spoke about caseloads, convictions and prosecutor burnout, but he acknowledged to Madison County commissioners May 26 that none of these things resonate emotionally.
“It’s boring,” he said, regarding the facts and figures.
So the second-year Northern Judicial Circuit DA presented a slideshow to bring home the tragic cases he and his staff of five assistants must confront.
There was the voice of a mother who waited several hours before calling 9-1-1 after her 3-year-old son consumed her methadone. There was a photo of the toddler with tubes in his nose at the hospital. He was dead. There was a bloody photo of a man who had been beaten to death by his wife. There was a grisly wreck photo from a wreck that claimed the life of a Madison County man, a wreck caused by a repeat drunk driver.
“Prosecutors give voice to those who have been silenced,” said White.
But that job takes a toll on assistant district attorneys, who make between $40,000 and $50,000, while trying to pay off loans for law school.
“You’re seeing prosecutors leave across the state,” said White.
And he noted that he’s losing another good prosecutor at the end of June, an assistant DA who simply reached a point of burnout. He said that each time a prosecutor leaves, there is a “steep learning curve” for the replacement.
White said his prosecutors have an average of 471 cases each. He said adding another assistant DA will help lessen the burden on the prosecutors and allow them to pay more attention to each case.
He asked the board to consider splitting the cost of funding a sixth assistant DA in the circuit with the four other counties in the five-count Northern Judicial Circuit. The position would be initially paid for by the state, then reimbursed by the counties. The salary would be $43,091 and cost $65,893, including benefits. Madison County’s proposed share is $17,212. White added that state funding might become available next year for the position.
Despite the stresses on prosecutors, White said his office has made significant strides in reducing a massive backlog of cases that existed before he took office, reducing the old caseload by 30 percent.
“We closed over 2,600 cases, secured many guilty verdicts at trial, and removed from the community many serious, violent offenders,” wrote White in a letter requesting the additional prosecutor.
He noted that many cases that previously waited for a Grand Jury indictment have been resolved more quickly by filing felony accusations in all matters “that we are authorized by law to do so.”
“We are sending the message that early acceptance of responsibility will receive great consideration, and that delay by the defense will not work to their benefit,” wrote White.
The DA said this has reduced costs for counties in the circuit.
“We have worked with the public defender’s office to schedule jail clearing days to reduce the cost to the county for offenders who should either be in prison at the state’s expense, or on probation and not in the county jail,” wrote White. “I receive a jail population report every day, and we make sure to prioritize these cases, both for indictment and trial.”
A couple of county commissioners spoke favorably of White’s proposal, but the group postponed any decision on the matter Thursday, agreeing to discuss the position during upcoming budget meetings.
HEALTH DEPT. BUILDING PROBLEM
In a separate matter May 22, the board heard from commission chairman Anthony Dove, who reported that the health department building on Hwy. 98 is “settling” due to poor compaction of the dirt beneath the building. The county will seek price estimates on remedying the issue. Commissioners said the issue isn’t as severe as the sinking at the old Fine Finish building in recent years. That building was constructed over an old landfill, but commissioners don’t think that’s the issue with the health department. Dove said his late father-in-law, Louie Clark, expressed concern years ago when the health department building about the dirt not being packed tight enough.
“My father-in-law was concerned when this was put in,” said Dove.
In other matters May 22, the commissioners held a moment of silence before the meeting for Cruz Thomas, a Franklin and Jackson County deputy who died in a car accident while on duty in Franklin County on I-85 Wednesday night. Thomas is the son of Franklin County Sheriff Stevie Thomas. The board approved the purchase of a Kubota tractor for the county transfer station for $30,400. The group postponed a decision on the purchase of a hook truck for the road department. The board heard from transfer station director Sandra Webb, who informed the board that the county will need to start hauling its own recycling to Athens. A neighboring county had been handling the service. The board learned that the county brought in $4,123 in revenue from a recent surplus sale of county equipment. The board approved an updated county “Hazard Mitigation Plan,” which allows the county to receive state and federal assistance in case of emergencies. The board postponed a discussion of the 2013 budget until its June 2 meeting. Commissioner Stanley Thomas has called for a review of last year’s budget. “Anytime you have a budget process, I think that after that year, you need to review the budget and see if there were any issues, why there were those issues and what can be done to take care of them,” said Thomas, who noted that some departments exceeded their 2013 budget. Chairman Anthony Dove noted that the BOC budgeted $640,000 from its reserve funds to cover a revenue shortfall in 2013. But the county needed $608,000 from reserves to cover expenses.