DANE COUNTY SUPERVISORS HAMPTON AND HESSELBEIN PUSH RESOLUTION TO ADDRESS DIRE SITUATION AT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS’ OFFICES
August 18, 2008
Supervisor Melanie Hampton at
Dane County Supervisors Melanie Hampton and Dianne Hesselbein have introduced a resolution to the County Board urging the State of Wisconsin to fully staff District Attorney (DA) offices throughout the state. This action is being taken in response to the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau report issued in July 2007 and Dane County’s Criminal Justice System Assessment of September 2007. The Wisconsin Attorney General, the Wisconsin Victim Witness Professionals (WVWP) association, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, the Dane County Community Coordinated Response to Domestic Violence, and other victim advocates have consistently called for sufficient D.A. office funding.
The Legislative Audit Bureau report revealed a critical statewide understaffing of DA offices, based on a standard weighted caseload formula. By this formula, according to the state Department of Administration, Dane County is now short 11.03 Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs). The report presented to the Dane County Board by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning found that law enforcement staffing has expanded at five times the rate of DA offices and arrests referred to the DA’s office grew by 15 times the office’s growth.
According to Judge Patrick Fiedler, Dane County Circuit Court, Branch 8, Presiding Judge of the Criminal Rotation: “Dane County has a serious problem. There are not enough Assistant District Attorneys to handle the ever-increasing caseload. In order for the system to process cases in a timely, effective and fair manner, the State of Wisconsin must authorize a sufficient number of new attorney positions in the District Attorney’s Office. This is by far the most important need of the justice system.”
The State Public Defender’s Office recognizes the undue burden insufficient resources at District Attorney’s Offices places on victims of crime and the accused. Mr. Nick Chiarkas, Wisconsin State Public Defender said, “If ADA’s had more time to spend on each case, we would be able to find better, innovative case dispositions.”
Delays in the court system result in increased jail costs as well as increased costs throughout the Criminal Justice system, most of which must be paid by local property taxes. Public safety may also be put at risk by the shortage of prosecutors. “Maintaining law and order in our communities requires effective policing and prosecution,” said Jim Palmer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. “As Wisconsin’s largest law enforcement group, we implore our elected leaders to heed the advice of the Legislative Audit Bureau and increase the number of prosecutors in this state. Wisconsinites can no longer afford the detrimental impact that the shortfall of prosecutors has on our criminal justice system.”
“We continue to prioritize our work, and seek every efficiency we can think of,” said Brian W. Blanchard, Dane County District Attorney. “But once you are down to having only minutes per case, the quality of justice is imperiled.”
Blanchard praised the decision of the state legislature to adequately staff the state Crime Lab in response to demands on that agency during the last budget cycle. “That is an example of strong action to address genuine needs in the criminal justice system. But DNA analysis is only one part of the criminal justice process. Prompt DNA work is not worth much if there is not also prompt prosecution work in the state’s courthouses.”
This resolution will be considered Tuesday, August 19 by the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee at 5:45 PM in Room 321 of the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Blvd. in Madison.
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