Judicial District DA asks Pitkin County commissioners for budget increase | AspenTimes.com

Judicial District DA asks Pitkin County commissioners for budget increase

District Attorney Jeff Cheney on Tuesday asked Pitkin County commissioners for nearly $700,000 as part of his $3.3 million 2018 budget for the three-county 9th Judicial District.

The request represents a 7 percent increase over 2017 — about $46,000 more — that will go toward a state Legislature-induced budget shortage, hiring a new support staff employee and adding software to join a statewide case management system designed solely for prosecutors.

Beyond that, Cheney said he's working on designing a restorative justice program in the district to help victims and defendants heal from crimes and he wants to re-establish a detox center in Garfield County.

The district attorney's total budget for 2018 is $3.47 million, the lion's share of which is covered by Garfield County because that's where more than 70 percent of the district's cases are filed, Cheney said. Of that total amount, the state covers $124,961 in the form of Cheney's salary, he said. The rest comes from the three counties.

Pitkin County's share of the 2018 budget is $691,729 because it is responsible for 21.3 percent of the cases filed in the district. Cheney asked Garfield County for $2.4 million and Rio Blanco County for $252,808, according to budget documents included in Cheney's presentation Tuesday.

The requested 8.7 percent total budget increase is for three main reasons, Cheney said.

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First, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill effective 2018 forbidding district attorney's offices from charging defendants for discovery materials, he said. That used to generate between $55,000 and $65,000 a year district-wide, Cheney said.

Next, the office hasn't added a support staff person in 10 years and needs it, he said. Current staff members each work the equivalent of one and a half employees and must often put in overtime on weekends to get all their work done, Cheney said.

Finally, the 22 judicial districts in the state have gotten together and designed a paperless case-management system that will require upfront costs to join. Cheney pointed out that the 9th Judicial District was one of the first to go paperless a decade ago, though that software is now out of date and expensive. The new system does not charge maintenance and license fees, which will save money in the long run, he said.

Cheney also included a request for a 2.5 percent increase in staff wages. He pointed out in a letter to commissioners that average base annual salary for a state public defenders is $115,000 a year, while beginning prosecutors begin at between $65,000 and $85,000 and can sometimes grapple with quadruple the number of cases public defenders are assigned. Those numbers have been called into question by the Colorado State Public Defender office, which states the entry-level for state public defender is $57,276 and and average salary in the public defender's office is $75,000. Cheney said Thursday he is reviewing his letter and information.

Commissioners were supportive of Cheney's requests. Pitkin County staff have budgeted the full amount he asked for as they finalize next year's budget, County Manager Jon Peacock said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct salaries for state public defenders.