DA feels shortchanged in budget deal

Friday, June 18, 2010

The biggest piece of the county's budget pie for criminal justice goes to Sheriff Margaret Mims. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors found enough money in the budget to avoid laying off deputies.

But District Attorney Elizabeth Egan will have to lay off 11 attorneys and 3 investigators. On top of major cuts in recent years. She was upset despite the County Supervisors pledge to keep talks going.

"We'll be talking all year because no one's comfortable with what just happened." She said.

Supervisor Susan Anderson shared Egan's frustration. During Tuesdays hearing she said, "I'm not comfortable with it either Beth, but I think it's unfortunate we gave more to the Sheriff. I would have rather given you the bigger piece."

County Probation Chief Linda Penner also expressed displeasure at her staff cuts and said she will have to release juvenile offenders.

While the Sheriff is happy she'll get to keep deputies on the street, it doesn't improve the situation at the courthouse, and in some ways, makes things worse.

"More deputies on the street mean more cases with fewer Deputy DA's and fewer Public Defenders those cases are just going to just clog a system that's already clogged."

Presiding Fresno County Superior Court Judge Bruce Smith says the system, arrest, prosecution, defense judgment and incarceration are all connected...and need to be in balance. He says anyone wanting their day in court will have to wait longer and keeping suspects and criminals in jail will be harder.

"Right now we're seeing a lot of releases because of staffing issues. Closing of two floors of the jail. That's only going to worsen over time."

The judge notes the courts are now staffed at the same level they were in 1993. County Supervisor Phil Larson acknowledges the system is out of whack...but says he and the other County Supervisors are still working on it.

"By making the decision we kind of shorted two other departments...the DA and Probation, and right now it's a work in progress."

Larson says the county is looking for additional money...but there isn't much time to find it. The final budget is expected to be adopted next Tuesday.

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phil larson, fresno county, sheriff margaret mims, budget cuts, local, gene haagenson
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