District attorneys around the state are requesting 84.4 new prosecutor positions during the 2015-17 biennium, according to a budget request released Tuesday.
The request, according to the State Prosecutors Office, was made to ensure that each county is adequately staffed to help address an increased caseload and other duties. It is not the first time prosecutors have made such a request, though they have been unsuccessful in the past.
DA’s offices’ budgets, which primarily are paid for with state money, also include positions and support paid for by their respective counties.
According to the state budget request, the number of days that it takes prosecutors to file formal charges after an arrest is projected to increase because of staffing shortages statewide.
The request would cost $10.7 million and is by far the largest increase the DAs are requesting in this upcoming budget. Dane County seeks the highest number of new prosecutors at 11. Waukesha County requested 6-1/2 and Milwaukee County, four.
The office’s total budget request is $125,661,100, a roughly 26-percent increase from the current budget. That includes money to cover a total of 116.65 positions, which includes the requested 84.4 new prosecutor spots.
Not all of the 116.5 positions are new, though. For example, 15.5 of those positions exist, but they are paid for by grants, and other DA’s offices are asking to convert part-time positions into full-time.
The latest request comes on the heels of a study compiled this year by the DOA, which found Wisconsin needs about 130 more prosecutors to handle the number of cases county district attorneys’ offices across the state are asked to take on. The shortage is spread unevenly among offices. For example, Pepin County has 112 percent of the prosecutors it needs, while Sheboygan County has 65 percent, according to the report.
Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel said the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, of which he is a member, “urged each of the counties at this time to ask for what you can justify.” He said that “we do not expect we’re going to get all of them.”
Schimel said the report was flawed because the needs of each county were not accurately represented. Milwaukee County has 50 percent of the state’s violent crime, he said, yet it has only 38 percent of the state’s prosecutors. Other counties, such as Marinette, have an increased need because of the emergence of crimes related to heroin, he added.
WDAA President David O’Leary did not immediately return a message Tuesday.
During the last session, the State Prosecutors Office requested 45.75 new positions. That request was denied.
“We decided this time that we need to ask for the positions that we can justify and we accept that a dozen-years plus of neglect of the DA’s program is not going to be fixed in one budget,” Schimel said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker did not immediately return a message left Tuesday.
In the new request, Sheboygan County requested five positions. Deputy District Attorney Christopher Stock said that would increase the number of prosecutor positions to 12.5, which means the office would be fully staffed for the first time in about 20 years.
He said currently having 7.5 positions “means we’re doing the workload of two people.”
“It’s extremely hard,” Stock said. “We operate like a MASH unit, we triage cases … and we would like to give cases a lot more attention.”
The request also includes a proposal from Florence County DA Doug Drexler to make his position full-time, which would cost about $115,000.
Drexler said this is the third time he has made the request. He said he made it because as a part-time DA, he also maintains a private practice and is frequently finding conflicts of interest.
“Doing DA work in the same county just creates such a mess,” Drexler said. “I’ve been here for a long time. Everybody’s more conscious about these conflicts.”
The Milwaukee County DA’s office is requesting the state provide $53,000 to promote two assistant district attorneys to deputy district attorneys. The office currently has five deputy DAs, according to the request, and an additional two would ensure it can supervise the assistant district attorneys in an “efficient and effective way.”
Chief Deputy DA Kent Lovern did not immediately return a message left Tuesday. Follow @eheisigWLJ