Dane County Committee cuts positions from DA’s office

Dane County Committee cuts positions from DA’s office

Two more positions may be cut from the Dane County District Attorney’s Office after a vote by a county committee.

The Public Protection & Judiciary Committee approved a budget amendment that would remove two full-time paralegal positions that were added last year on a trial basis and redirect them to two different departments.

The positions were intended to be used by the district attorney to increase the number of criminal misdemeanor cases directed to the Community Restorative Court, a program that helps offenders ages 17-25 avoid a criminal record. Instead, county supervisors say, the positions were used to do other work, leaving the system underused.

“It’s very frustrating for the county board to be trying to help and we are passing budget amendments, quite a few of them, every place that we can help and when the resources are not deployed properly and they don’t help, we have to look at a different alternative, said District 12 Supervisor Paul Rusk.

The positions will be redirected to the Human Services Department and to another department to support pretrial risk assessment in the clerk’s office. Numbers provided by the district attorney’s office show the paralegals have handled 997 cases in the past year.

Out of that number, only 21 have been referred to the CRC program, according to the Department of Human Services. That program has seen a total of 108 cases in 2 and a half years. According, to Rusk the DA’s office should be referring hundreds of cases per year.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne told News 3 that 21 cases is “a good chunk of what they received.” Ozanne is still hoping to add three prosecutors to his staff as well as keep the paralegal positions.

“I’m committed to work with the county board to work through these issues. I have supported and continue to support the program and would like to see it as a countywide initiative,” he said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi sent a letter on Monday saying he was concerned about Ozanne’s message. Parisi said Ozanne’s timing was wrong.

“The district attorney did not hold a press conference during the state budget process declaring a public safety emergency, urging the governor and Legislature to fund the positions that are state employees in his office. I think that would’ve been a good idea,” Parisi said

Parisi agrees the office is understaffed, but believes the pressure from the district attorney’s office should be directed towards the state.

“We have held up our end of the bargain. Since i have been in office, I’ve increased funding in the district attorney’s office by 40 percent, I’ve added nine positions in that office. Now, it’s time for the state to live up to its responsibilities ’cause we do need more folks but the pressure needs to go towards funding state employees. That’s the governor and the legislature,” he said.

In a report to county supervisors Ozanne said quote “faced with increased volume…the office needs the resources required to maintain these commitments.”

According to Ozanne, in the last couple of weeks he has implemented a new system to flag people who would qualify for the program.

The amendment still needs to pass the finance committee. From there, the board will vote on the full budget by the end of November.