State DA#039;s seek #036;10 million

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Crime does pay, unless you sit on the prosecuting side of the courtroom aisle.

With that in mind, the state’s district attorneys converged on Montgomery recently for their annual budget requests amidst more proposed General Fund cutbacks.

The district attorneys are requesting nearly $10 million more for fiscal year 2005-06.

&uot;We asked for an additional $6.9 million so we can hire 123 new employees,&uot; Randy Hillman, executive director for Alabama’s District Attorneys Association, State of Alabama office of Prosecution Services, said. &uot;Forty-three are new assistant district attorneys.&uot;

Hillman said the current caseload for each lawyer would be more than 2,130 cases to stay up to date. If the new positions are approved the caseload for each lawyer goes down to 1,850.

&uot;It is still an outrageous number of cases to handle but at least it helps,&uot; Hillman said.

Second Judicial Circuit District Attorney John Andrews also said the money would be used locally to hire more employees and help keep existing employees, rising insurance rates and cost of living expenses.

He said right now funding for the local district attorney’s office takes a hit in the indigent defense fund.

&uot;The problem is the indigent defense fund and the money used there,&uot; he said. &uot;Through October 2004 in Butler County we spent $185,529.38; Crenshaw County we spent $225,954.49 and in Lowndes we used $185,000 for appointed attorney fees.&uot;

This $596,483.87 used in tri-county area to pay defense attorneys when the accused cannot pay for legal services.

Now on the prosecution side, it is a much lower number.

&uot;I get $212,000 to prosecute all these cases,&uot; he said.

&uot;That only pays for my employees, with no extras.

That’s the way of the world throughout the state.

The district attorneys get approximately $14 million to prosecute cases and the defense attorneys get like $50 million.&uot;

Each district attorney’s office has to try all the cases and the hours are long and the pay doesn’t always equal out to value.

&uot;With our workload, it’s hard to keep good employees,&uot; Andrews said.

&uot;They can go to the defense side and make a $100,000 a year.

It’s a runaway train. We have to have the funds to run our offices.&uot;

Andrews also pointed out that the crime rate continues to go up and with each crime committed, that’s another case his office must prosecute.

&uot;The amount of crime is unbelievable and we have been cut every year for the past few years,&uot; he said.

&uot;This office has had to cut $100,000 since I became district attorney. Now, this office is under budgeted by approximately $150,000.&uot;

Andrews said he makes up the difference through the circuit’s worthless check unit, criminal restitution and child support.

&uot;The state’s budget if facing a deficit of $350 million and the judicial system can’t be cut much more,&uot; he said.

&uot;If it is, I’m sad to say it’s going to come to a grinding halt. Judicial system is going to come to a grinding halt.

We have one circuit judge and his caseload is unbelievable.&uot;

The district attorney’s offices additional funding is self generated.

&uot;Two years ago we lost about 17 percent of our general fund budget,&uot; Hillman said. &uot;If we don’t do something soon we will be standing on the courthouse steps selling doughnuts to keep our office open.&uot;

Hillman also commented on the pay increase.

&uot;We pay $35,000 to assistant district attorneys,&uot; Hillman said. &uot;That is not enough to keep them. These folks have gone through seven years of school and are carrying $150,000 worth of debt with them. They can’t work with us, pay off their loans and have a decent standard of living.

&uot;What usually happens is that we train them for a year and then they go to the dark side, I mean defense, and start making the real money.&uot;

The Alex City Outlook contributed to this report.