DA’s look to Legislature for funding

Published 4:42 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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Some District Attorneys in Alabama are turning to the Alabama Legislature for help amid the decline of fees due to COVID-19 closures.

Statewide, at least two of the state’s district attorneys have reported they are cutting staffing or cutting their staff’s salaries due to the drop in revenue.

Local District Attorney Walt Merrell said the local district attorney’s office is funded by the state at about 30 percent of what is needed in terms of salaries to operate.

“We rely on court collections to make up a portion of the remaining 70 percent,” he said. “I don’t like our funding system. We are a constitutional office and we should be fully funded by the Legislature, but these, are the table scraps we must dine on.”

The 30 percent Merrell refers to comes from the state’s general fund budget.

“Because the courts have effectively been closed for a month or more, those collections have dropped dramatically,” Merrell said. “Without those funds coming in, we will have to find some other way to meet the payroll obligations in the near future.”

Merrell said his office operates under Dave Ramsey principles.

“That is, we have an emergency reserve set aside for issues such as this,” he said. “It will cushion this blow some, but I am not sure it will absorb the entirety of the deficiency because none of us know exactly how long this will last.”

Merrell said that his office has 17 employees that help carry out the functions of the district attorney’s office. Those employees include those who work in the drug and veteran’s courts; the worthless check unit; restitution and recovery unit; as well as juvenile, district and circuit courts.

In other counties such as Morgan County, the local district attorney asked two assistant district attorneys and an investigator to retire. Then, he hired them back part time. Additionally, he cut two part-time positions and reduced the remaining salaries by 15 percent.

Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association told Alabama Daily News that if more supplemental money doesn’t come from the state Legislature that more DA’s offices across the state could be looking at job losses, which would be detrimental to the state’s criminal justice system.

“We are counting on Rep. (Mike) Jones and Sen. (Jimmy) Holley to address this problem so that we don’t get to a point of having to eliminate services or lay off employees. They have always been attentive to our needs. I’m sure they will be part of the solution.”