DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Detroit-area prosecutors were absent from some courtrooms for a third consecutive day Wednesday, and their boss said traffic and other cases likely will be dismissed or adjourned as her office struggles with budget cuts.
“This is not a dispute. This is not a stunt or ploy,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told reporters in Detroit.
Twenty-two attorneys and three investigators lost their jobs last week because Worthy said she doesn’t have the money in her budget from Wayne County to continuing paying them. That leaves the prosecutor’s office with about 160 attorneys, 52 fewer than Worthy said are needed.
Worthy said there is concern now about warrants that will have to wait to be issued.
“We’re trying to figure out which ones seem to be the most dangerous of people and try to get them issued first. But, we’re fearful everyday that someone on that list, because we can’t get to it — my child abuse unit has gone from eight lawyers to two-and-a-half — we’re fearful everyday that one of those people named in a warrant by police may do something to harm another child,” said Worthy.
“We’re backed-up 66 sexual assault warrants. I’m not even talking about the old rape kit warrants. We’re backed-up on those, too,” she added.
County Executive Robert Ficano allocated her department $26 million, instead of the $34 million Worthy said she had been expecting.
Worthy said she believes there is money to help fund her department, but the county refuses to do so.
“We simply cannot cover the traffic docket,” she said. “We cannot cover the (personal protection order) docket in circuit court. We cannot cover the misdemeanors docket in 36th District Court. Covering the misdemeanor domestic violence docket is a day-to-day call. We cannot cover completely some of the out-county district courts.
“It can change from day-to-day based on the personnel that we have.”
Some 36th District Court judges have had to allow defendants in misdemeanor cases to walk and those facing tickets to leave without paying fines or court fees.
The court, like Wayne County and the city of Detroit, has been struggling with budget problems. Nearly $279 million in outstanding fees and fines were uncollected as of June 30, according to a review team that determined Detroit was in a financial emergency.
Court officials, as of early this year, had taken no action to reduce expenditures and had 350 workers while budgeted for 285, the review team said.
The Associated Press left a message Wednesday seeking comment from the court’s chief judge, Kenneth King. Messages also were left seeking comment from Ficano’s office.
Ficano’s office has said the county can’t afford to fund the prosecutor’s office at previous levels.
The county is facing a $160 million budget deficit. Like Detroit, which is the county seat, Wayne County has been hit hard during the national recession. Job losses, especially in manufacturing industries and those that supply Detroit auto companies, have been massive, and the county lost more than 240,000 residents between 2000 and 2010.
As of Friday, Worthy said her office was backed up with 40 warrants for homicides, 130 for child abuse and 66 for sexual assaults. The office is responsible for prosecuting crime in dozens of communities across the county, along with felonies committed in Detroit, which has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country.
Wayne County sheriff’s officials expressed concern that the shortage of prosecutors could add to their costs.
“If it takes longer to get a case to court, that person will have to spend more days behind bars,” said Paula Bridges, spokeswoman for Sheriff Benny Napoleon. “That means we are going to be paying more to house these individuals.”
Bridges said it costs $140 per day to house each inmate. She also said the sheriff’s $85 million budget is underfunded by at least $15 million.
Circuit court cases and those going to trial have to be covered because “we don’t want any cases dismissed and having double-jeopardy attached where we can’t try it again,” Worthy said.
Worthy also noted that the prosecutor’s office budget has been balanced for the past six years and even carried a surplus in two of those years.
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