Pitkin County boosts DA’s budget
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Two counties down with one to go, the region’s chief prosecutor has almost secured nearly $225,000 in supplemental funding he says is needed to hire two prosecutors for felony cases to relieve mounting pressures on staff.
So far this week, 9th Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson has convinced commissioners in Garfield and Pitkin counties to approve slightly more than $207,000 that was not included in the district’s 2008 budget.
Wednesday, Beeson is hoping to make it three for three when he asks the Rio Blanco County commissioners to give him $17,527.
The money is needed, he has told the commissioners, to hire two additional deputy prosecutors to exclusively work felony cases, and three others for support staff positions: an investigator, a legal assistant and a victim/witness assistant to keep up with the district’s caseload. The deputy prosecutors and the investigator are to earn $70,000 apiece, while the legal assistant and victim/witness assistant are each to be paid $35,000, according to a memo from Beeson to the commissioners.
The district comprises Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties, which together contribute to the district’s $2.5 million budget. Garfield County covers about 71 percent of the district’s budget, followed by Pitkin at 21 percent and Rio Blanco at about 8 percent.
Currently, 12 prosecutors work in the district attorney’s three offices in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Meeker ” eight in Glenwood Springs, including Beeson; two each in Aspen and Meeker. Additionally there are several support staff members, including two investigators for all three counties, assisting a total of 17 law enforcement agencies, Beeson explained.
Beeson said Tuesday, after convincing the Pitkin County commissioners to come up with their share of $47,414, that his prosecutors have roughly twice the caseload of other prosecutors around Colorado. Citing a recent survey, he said, Garfield County prosecutors handle about 400 felony cases per year, compared to a statewide average for prosecutors of fewer than 200 cases a year.
Adding to the pressure of the local prosecutor’s job, he said, is the fact that state judicial authorities recently approved a third judgeship for the 9th Judicial District.
Beeson said the district has been experiencing backlogs in court dockets, delays in prosecutions and an unacceptably high turnover among attorneys, whom he said burn out and leave after relatively short tenures.
In Pitkin County District Court this week, on the same day that former Chief Deputy District Attorney Gail Nichols was sworn in as the district’s newest judge, pinch-hitting prosecutor Tony Hershey apologized to a judge for procedural errors in several cases ” errors that observers believe are a direct consequence of an overload of cases.
And, as Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said in supporting Beeson’s supplemental budget request, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Commissioner Jack Hatfield quibbled a bit over Beeson’s request, criticizing the state for handing down “unfunded mandates” in the form of a new judge’s position and added judicial responsibilities but without any state funding attached.
But a majority of the commissioners agreed that the request was appropriate and that Beeson could rely on continued support for the added positions in next year’s round of budget talks.
The supplemental appropriations will not actually take effect until the commissioners of all three counties have given their approval.
Beeson indicated that the two new deputies would be working mostly in Glenwood Springs, where the majority of the felony cases are filed, while the new investigator is likely to work mostly in Aspen to assist the upper valley law enforcement agencies.
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