Stanislaus County supervisors gave approval Tuesday to restore 18 positions for the Sheriff’s Department and hire 13 staff members for probation, in what they called public safety restoration.
It will provide more law enforcers to catch offenders and monitor former inmates after their conditional release from incarceration. But the hiring won’t likely affect a backlog of criminal court cases that’s a constant strain for the county general fund, officials said.
Tuesday’s board action allotted four positions for the Public Defender’s Office and three for the District Attorney’s Office. Public Defender Tim Bazar said he will re-establish a team of in-house investigators to gather evidence at crime scenes and interview witnesses. The DA positions include a lieutenant, criminal investigator and system technician.
Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley suggested the DA’s Office was not an equal partner in the restoration effort, which is designed to reverse the deep cuts to public safety that followed the recession. To illustrate the growing workload, Shipley said deputy district attorneys were required to make 88,654 court appearances last year, compared with 56,434 appearances in 2002.
Supervisor Bill O’Brien noted that no prosecutors were included in the DA’s personnel request. Shipley said the office needed support staff before hiring more attorneys.
The Sheriff’s Department and probation will be favored if the county continues rebuilding public safety in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 budget years. Of the 35 additional positions proposed, the plan would allot five more positions for the DA’s office and one more for the public defender. The staffing will be subject to board approval each year.
Supervisors said delays in major criminal cases are costing the county millions of dollars. The county has 103 open homicide cases with 126 defendants and incurs the cost for jail housing, investigations, prosecution and defendants who can’t afford attorneys.
More than 75 percent of the 1,060 county jail inmates are awaiting trial or have active court cases, while only about 25 percent are serving time.
For the second straight year, officials project a $700,000 shortfall in the budget for publicly funded legal defense. Bazar said homicide cases are costly for his office when they involve multiple defendants represented by separate attorneys.
He noted that a recent multiple-defendant case was especially costly. Bazar apparently alluded to the trial of six defendants in what authorities believed was a gang-related slaying of Erick Gomez in north Modesto in 2013. A mistrial was declared in January after the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, and the case may be tried again.
O’Brien and Supervisor Jim DeMartini said continuances are a legal tactic that prolong criminal cases. Board Chairman Terry Withrow contended the accused can be effectively defended without excessive court delays. “There is a moral obligation not to delay things,” Withrow said.
Bazar said in-house investigators should work more efficiently than hiring outside help for defense investigations. He agreed delays were not necessary for an effective defense, but “it will always come down to doing the best job for the client or the defendant in the case.”
Withrow said the county has formed an ad hoc committee to talk with the presiding Superior Court judge about expediting the court process. “We don’t want to mess with due process at all, but we want to partner with the court system and come up with a way to have speedier trials,” Withrow said later Tuesday.
The Sheriff’s Department plans to hire two lieutenants and 16 deputies with the restoration funding. One lieutenant will serve as chief in Hughson, which contracts for sheriff’s service, and the other will work in the county office of emergency services.
Deputies hired under the three-phase restoration effort will be assigned to patrol, a gang and narcotics unit, criminal investigations or community resource positions in unincorporated towns, the sheriff said.
Besides restoring the 38 public safety positions with $4 million in funding, the board used various funding sources to fill 16 other positions in child welfare services, health services, the library, the agricultural commissioner’s office, the chief executive office, behavioral health, environmental resources and planning. An improved economy has created a better financial outlook for the county.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
Board of Supervisors Watch
The Board of Supervisors took the following action Tuesday:
▪ Approved an agreement with the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training to provide emergency vehicle course training.
▪ Accepted improvements for The Vineyard I subdivision at Diablo Grande.
▪ OK’d an agreement in which Waterford and the county each will contribute $400,000 in local matching funds for the $11.65 million Hickman Road bridge project.