Prosecutors threatened with layoffs
Rushing from a courtroom sentencing to his office to prepare a brief that must be presented later that same day, District Attorney John Snider pauses long enough to ask how his staff will find time to take the mandatory furloughs.
In an April 6 letter to the Association of State Prosecutors, the Office of State Employment Relations said that if assistant district attorneys do not take six more furlough days by June 30, they will be reduced to part-time employees and lose the equivalent of 20 percent of their pay and benefits.
If the prosecutors do not take the additional furlough days, the state may have to repay $11 million to other state employees who agreed to take 16 furlough days over the past two fiscal years.
If prosecutors take the furlough days, it will affect their pay but not their benefits.
In the fall of 2009, most other state employee unions agreed to accept 16 unpaid furlough days, but only with provisions that if any bargaining unit agreed to fewer furlough days, that would apply to all of them.
In 2009, state prosecutors agreed to only 10 furlough days over the next two years because they had a clause in their contract that effectively capped potential furlough days at five per year.
“I’d like to know when these “me too” clauses got bargained into all the other contracts,” Snider said.
Snider said his office had the equivalent of four full-time prosecutors eight years ago. During Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, the staff was decreased to 3.5 full-time prosecutors.
The additional furlough days over the next two months will represent a 20 percent reduction in the work force of the district attorney’s office.
In 2010, Waupaca County prosecutors filed 244 felony cases and 480 misdemeanor cases. In 2005, local prosecutors filed 248 felonies and 588 misdemeanors.
County prosecutors are also responsible for most of the 4,400 forfeiture traffic cases and 260 criminal traffic cases filed in 2010 in Waupaca County, as well as juvenile cases.
But the number of filed cases do not tell the entire story, according to Snider.
“A referral that results in no action can take our office an inordinate amount of time,” Snider said. “A case that we file becomes part of the statistics, but a case where there’s no action still involves staff who review the reports and make decisions,” Snider said. “We’re seeing an increase in the demands on our time and we’re struggling to balance desk time with courtroom time.”
Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco described the Office of State Employment Relations letter to prosecutors as “intimidation, pure and simple.
“Don’t they realize the havoc that will create in the criminal justice system? Do they have any concern about public safety or is their bottom line only to embrace the ‘state is broke’ phrase?” DeCecco asked in a press release.
Wood County Assistant District Attorney Angela Poth noted that the state is facing a shortage of prosecutors. She cited a recent study by the Legislative Audit Bureau that found that 117 prosecutors were needed statewide to keep up with their rising caseload.
“When is this going to end?” Poth said. “Obviously, public safety is not an important concern or even a concern at all.”