New cuts make backlog worse
Mike Cruz, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/14/2011 08:09:19 PM PDT

Years of budget cuts in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office have created a backlog of nearly 2,900 criminal cases.

The cases are awaiting review before getting filed in court – a scenario that may be exacerbated by calls from county administrators for another $2.1 million in cuts.

Over the past three fiscal years, District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said Tuesday, that he has looked for ways to reduce spending, while absorbing the loss of 78 staff members. Of those staffers, 34 of them – or 17 percent – were frontline prosecutors.

Fewer attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office means there are fewer people to review cases that come in from law enforcement agencies, and fewer people to determine whether those cases should result in criminal charges.

The backlog has grown to 2,894 cases, of which nearly 1,300 cases are for DUI offenses, Ramos said.

“I live with the fear that an unprosecuted DUI suspect will commit another such act and take a life on the roadway before we are able to check their dangerous behavior with a prosecution,” Ramos wrote in a guest editorial for The Sun.

The District Attorney’s Office set-up a triage system, whereby new cases are prioritized for review. Though the cases in the current backlog are “non-serious, non-violent” cases, they still represent suspected offenders who are not being held accountable, he explained.

The backlogged cases represent offenses such as burglary, ID theft, auto theft, possession of firearms by convicted felons, stalking and more. They are both misdemeanors and felonies.

The statute of limitations is six months for misdemeanors and it could run out before some cases get reviewed.

Prosecutors could not say how long it will take to reduce the backlog, nor how long cases sit in the backlog. Each case is different, said Assistant District Attorney Dennis Christy.

“We’re doing our best to get to those cases, but it’s a continuing struggle,” Christy said.

The backlog is being handled in two ways.

First, supervisors will distribute cases to trial attorneys and have them review cases when they are out of court. But that takes time from those attorneys who should be preparing for trials, Christy said.

The other strategy, is having law enforcement agencies file some cases directly with the courts.

The District Attorney’s Office filed nearly 67,000 cases from December 2009 to December 2010.

To make matters worse, Ramos was told last week by the County Administrative Office that he must trim another $2.1 million from his budget, on top of the $3.8 million in cuts he already planned. That could mean the layoff of 12 more prosecutors, he said.

To read entire story, click here.