CONTRA COSTA CO.: BUDGET CUTS COULD STOP DA FROM PROSECUTING MISDEMEANOR CASES
A severe budget shortfall in Contra Costa County could force the district attorney’s office to lay off more than a third of its staff and stop prosecuting misdemeanor cases, District Attorney Robert Kochly said today.The county already cut $90 million to balance the budget this year, but because of lower than projected property and other tax revenue and an increased demand for services, the county now needs to cut an additional $26 million, according to County Administrator David Twa.Last week, Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf sent a letter to his staff warning them that the department may need to cut $14.7 million from its budget and lay off between 50 and 70 sworn deputies by the end of April.Contra Costa County District Attorney Robert Kochly sent a similar letter to his staff this week warning them of possible layoffs.The county’s mid-year budget report indicates that the district attorney’s office is $2.1 million over budget for this fiscal year. The office is projected to have a $4.1 million shortfall in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to Kochly. County supervisors will be discussing budgetary priorities during their meeting Tuesday and will likely make deeper cuts to other departments in order to fund the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office at higher levels, according to Supervisor Mary Piepho.”Public safety for me has always been a number one priority,” Piepho said.”I think the citizens of this county expect and deserve to have all of the crimes committed in their county prosecuted,” Kochly said.If he were to have to make the current proposed cuts to his department, he said, “That would be a sad day for Contra Costa County and a great day for criminals.”The district attorney’s office is currently authorized to have 100 attorneys, but because of previous budget cuts, it has only 85 staff attorneys and six temporary attorneys. If the district attorney’s office were to cut $4.1 million from its budget, it would have to immediately lay off 33 prosecutors, reducing the total number of attorneys in the department to 58, Kochly said. If that level of cuts were made, the district attorney’s office would have to stop filing any new misdemeanor cases, including misdemeanor drunken driving, shoplifting, petty theft, drug possession, and some domestic violence cases.The district attorney’s office currently reviews more than 20,000 potential misdemeanor cases each year and files charges in nearly 11,000 of those cases, according to Kochly.There are only 16 attorneys, including supervisors, who are responsible for reviewing, filing and prosecuting misdemeanor cases.The district attorney’s office would also have to drastically reduce the number of felony drug cases it prosecutes, which account for about 20 percent of the potential felony cases reviewed by the office each year.The office would also have to handle some of the most serious felonies, such as murder, sexual assault, elder abuse and felony domestic violence cases less effectively, reducing the department’s conviction rate and setting more alleged criminals free, Kochly said.The department currently reviews nearly 8,000 potential felony cases each year and files charges in about 5,000 of those cases, according to Kochly.
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