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'Staggering' Caseloads for Prosecutors

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Oklahoma district attorneys are speaking in frustration over what they say is a severe underfunding of their offices in the face of "staggering" caseloads.

At its Thursday meeting, the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council unveiled a draft   proposal to seek a significant increase in appropriations from the Legislature. The council also handed out the draft of a fact sheet with dramatic figures and statements.

“Caseloads of prosecutors are staggering, leaving insufficient time for legal review, meeting with victims and case preparation,” the fact sheet said.

As a point of emphasis, the sheet added, “If your daughter is raped, wouldn’t you want the best attorney in that courtroom?”

About half of the nearly $40 million in funding for district attorneys’ offices is paid through state appropriations. The rest comes from DA programs and fees, such as probation fees charged to offenders and civil asset forfeiture funds. The draft budget proposal for fiscal 2015 would raise state funding for prosecutors' offices from 0.5 percent to 1 percent of total state appropriations, to $71 million.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.
Oklahoma Watch
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

District attorneys say they’re facing a budget crunch because caseloads are getting larger; salaries for prosecutors are not keeping pace with the market, making recruiting difficult, and their offices must deal with too many unfunded legislatively-mandated justice programs, such as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

“The pressure point is, you’re not spending time prosecuting, you’re spending time raising money,” Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said at the council meeting.

The fact sheet states, “There are 273 assistant prosecutors in the state. In 2013, there were 92,042 felony and misdemeanor cases filed. This averages 337 cases per lawyer. And these numbers don’t consider the other caseload and duties of those prosecutors.”

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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