Tags: County Report
|Necci (click for larger version)|
September 24, 2013 | 11:22 AMELKHORN — The Walworth County District Attorney didn't get the verdict he wanted when he pitched the need for an additional prosecutor to the Walworth County Finance Committee.
County Administrator David Bretl included funding for an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) for 18-months in the county's budget. However, four supervisors filed appeals to that budget request and, at this point, it is now out of the budget.
On Sept. 19, the county approved its preliminary budget, which will be published and be presented at an Oct. 29 public hearing. On Nov. 12 the board will approve a final budget.
Funding for prosecutors is a state responsibility, but the state hasn't added an ADA to the Walworth County office since 1991 despite an increase in the county's population and violent crime rates.
District Attorney Daniel Necci said he has lobbied for an increase in the number of prosecutors for Walworth County at the state capitol but so far has been unsuccessful.
"In 1980, our District Attorney's office had two prosecutors, the elected DA and one assistant district attorney," Necci said. "The population of this county was approximately 71,500 people. Between 1980 and 1990 this body added three more assistant district attorneys."
In 1990, the state — not counties — began funding the salary and benefits of the district attorneys and assistant district attorneys, Necci said.
"Between 1990 and 2010 the state has added zero assistant district attorneys statewide," Necci said. "In fact, all they have done is subtract 19 during the Jim Doyle administration. This county, between 1990 and 2010, has grown by approximately 27,000 people."
The DA's office should have had additional prosecutor added in 1991 when a fourth judicial branch was created but that never occurred. The Department of Administration (DOA) studies the effectiveness of District Attorney's Offices.
The most recent study, in 2012, recommends four additional positions for the district attorney's office.
"Since 1991, the population of Walworth County has increased 23 to 24 percent. Violent crime has increased by almost double that in this county. Forcible rape, according to (the Office of Justice Assistance), has increased at almost triple that rate," Necci said.
Necci compared Walworth to Eau Claire County. Eau Claire has a similar population and has a small university. Eau Claire County has eight prosecutors compared to the five in Walworth County.
"The request for an 18-month expenditure for an additional DA should be denied," Grant wrote in his appeal. "I do not trust the Legislature to provide funding for much of anything — especially a new position like this."
Rep. Tyler August, whose district is located in Walworth County, placed a budget request to fund an additional ADA in Walworth County, Necci said.
"He is 100 percent behind this and he is now the Speaker Pro Tempore of the assembly," Necci said. "This means he carries a little more weight. He has pledged that he will stand with us on this issue going into the next biennial budget."
Necci said the agency that lobbies on behalf of prosecutors plans on taking on this issue for the next state biennial budget.
"Budget cuts at the state level is affecting most departments that have been in place for longer than I can remember," Grant said. "I find it difficult to believe we could find a good candidate under these circumstances. Not a promising outlook for future employment."
When assistant district attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld left the office, Necci said he received 90 applications in a week, including applicants who graduated in the top 5 percent of their class out of law school and other applicants with previous experience.
"We can get tremendous talent right now because of the market," Necci said. "When I got out of law school it was the complete opposite. You went into a DA's office for a couple of years and then you went out into private practice to make some real money. We have the opportunity right now to get an outstanding attorney."
In fact, Necci already has a person in mind, who would leave the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office to come Walworth County, for the position.
An appeal was also filed by supervisors Richard Brandl, Tim Schiefelbein and Dan Kilkenny to remove funding for the position.
"Remove funding for assistant district attorney position in the District Attorney budget; savings to be applied to lowering the tax levy," the supervisors wrote in the appeal. "Assistant district attorney positions and funding are the responsibility of the State of Wisconsin."
Necci said Walworth County wouldn't break new ground with this proposal.
He said that Fond du Lac and Milwaukee counties have been funding local prosecutors.
Kilkenny said he was concerned that if Walworth County funded the position, it would be less likely for the state to fund the position in the future.
"I think the fact that it is a state position is important," Kilkenny said. "I think the arguments that you make are very good, but I think they should be made to the Legislature."
Necci disagreed and said he thought it would send a message to elected officials that the ADA position was important.
"By funding a prosecutor for 18 months this body makes a big statement," Necci said. "You make a statement that I can take up to the Capitol and say look at how important this is, our own counties are doing this."
Grant asked Necci what would happen if the state didn't approve funding the position after 18 months.
Necci said he would lobby the Legislature and try to secure funding, but if that fails he might return to the county board to receive the funding and the board would need to make the decision on whether it could continue funding it.
Supervisor Richard Brandl, who doesn't serve on the Finance Committee, said he thought this could led to a slippery slope of the county funding positions that the state should be paying for.
"I agree with Dan and Jerry, this is a state thing," Brandl said. "I respect where our DA is coming from, but he needs to keep working at the state and get them to approve it."
Removing the funding was approved on a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Joe Schaefer was the only member opposed to removing the funding.